The curse of the opinionistas

Reflect on how often you have heard a Fourth Estate political commentator argue: “Because of this set of facts, I am of the opinion that so and so is true”? Seldom. How often have you heard one of them say: “My opinion is based on the following propositions…”? Practically never. How often have you heard or read: “If you put together these facts, it is logical to conclude that…and here is why”? Never.

So what do they say? “He/she showed poor judgement” (no supporting evidence advanced). “That was an appalling mistake” (no facts or reasons for that view provided). “That will play out badly with the electorate” (why this is predicted is not stated). We see this time and again.

This piece asserts that it is the substitution of unsupported opinion, often arising from a partisan mindset, in place of evidence and reasoning, that is the genesis of most of the media ‘bias’, about which there is so much contemporary angst.

Let’s examine a recent case in point. Here is what Niki Savva said in her discussion with Sky News Political Editor David Speers on 25 February in an Agenda session: Are we too focused on polls? Referring to leadership speculation, Savva insisted that PM Gillard: ”brings it on herself” because: ”she performs badly, not just once, but repeatedly.” And: ”She has shown continuously that she has bad judgement…it’s a case of her own missteps. She calls the election for September 14 and then within a matter of days…she announces the departure of two senior cabinet ministers…”

Read that again, or better still, play the YouTube video of the Agenda discussion.

Reflect on her words, and if you watch the video, take a look at Savva’s body language.

What are the relevant facts? There are two: PM Gillard announced a September 14 election and two days later announced the resignation of Chris Evans and Nicola Roxon. Indisputable facts. The rest of what Savva says is simply opinion – her opinion. She offers no reasoning. She simply states, with her usual self-confidence, that: ”she [Gillard] performs badly, not just once but repeatedly”, and that she has “bad judgement” and “missteps”. In the next breath she says: “She [Gillard] calls the election for September 14 and then within a matter of days…she announces the departure of two senior cabinet ministers…”, as if that is sufficient reason for her to condemn the PM vigorously. Savva is of the opinion that announcing the election and then the resignations is ‘bad judgement’, a ‘misstep’. Who says so, apart from Savva? No doubt other anti-Gillard journalists, such as Judith Sloan, who agreed recently on The Drum.

But not one journalist that I have heard or read has argued why these actions constituted ‘bad judgement’ or a ‘misstep’. On what basis were they so? What precedents suggest this is so? We are supposed to accept this journalistic ‘wisdom’ as if it were gospel, without the need for facts, evidence, argument, or reasoning to support it. This is what we the public are confronted with day after day – opinion masquerading as informed reasoning, well thought through conclusions, fact based logic. It is a monumental con. It’s time we cried out in protest.

But remember that Niki Savva and her ilk are intelligent. They are certainly not stupid. So, if she eschews the verifiable facts that you and I can access, or interprets them in her own idiosyncratic way, what generates her behaviour? It can’t be nothing at all. It must be another set of facts.

In my opinion, judging from her behavior time and again on Insiders and other TV programs, what seems to motivate her, what appears to condition her behavior, is a desire to see PM Gillard gone and Tony Abbott installed in her place. Her oral language portrays a loathing of Julia Gillard, as does her body language. That ‘fact’ seems to me to be what energizes her. What generates her behavior appears to me to arise from her values and attitudes towards PM Gillard and Labor, her apparent disdain. What do you think?

The question for us then is how congruent are her values and attitudes with ours, and therefore how acceptable are her opinions to us.

Savva’s attitudes and values were exposed as she argued with Kerry-Anne Walsh, the other panelist on David Spears’ Agenda. Presumably Walsh was included because she had a strong opinion about the way the media uses opinion polls to create news stories and influence the politics. If this was so, Spears got his money’s worth of conflict and argument. Walsh suggested that the purpose of polling was to generate stories, particularly surrounding the Labor leadership, for the benefit of those who own the polling organizations. She went on to accuse the media of using polls to deliberately manipulate the politics. As soon as she did, she was set upon by an indignant Savva and a self-righteous Spears, both of whom denied Walsh’s accusations vigorously. They protested that the media was only following ‘the story’, one that had its origins in the anonymous leaks, corridor whispers, and back-grounding from Labor politicians. They didn’t make this up, insisted Savva and Spears; they were obliged to follow ‘the story’.

When you view the discussion, see if you can discern Savva’s attitude to Julia Gillard. It looked to me that she was very hostile, critical, and even emotional as she expressed her contempt for our PM. Savva’s values seem not to coincide at all with those of the PM. Savva’s opinions are going to be antagonistic to the PM, no matter what the issue. What then are her opinions worth in the context of a balanced discussion? There is no chance of her making a genuine concession, no chance of her giving the PM credit for anything at all. She acts like a court prosecutor, always seeking to bring out the worst and conceal everything other than that.

Savva is but one of many whose opinions are noticeably warped by their attitudes, values and political allegiances. Peter Reith, a frequent panelist on The Drum, Q&A and other TV programs, is another. Have you ever heard him say anything complimentary about our PM or anything Labor has done or proposes to do? He is unremittingly and sarcastically critical, negative and disparaging. Yet, like Savva, he is included, supposedly to provide balance. What are he and Savva supposed to be balancing? How many avid left-leaning, Government-supporting, Gillard-admiring panelists are there that need the counterbalance of a Savva or a Reith? I can’t think of any. Can you? Even Kerry-Anne Walsh, who argued so strongly with Savva and Spears on Agenda, was not mounting a strident pro-Gillard agenda; she was simply criticizing the media for its preoccupation with polls, leadership and for manipulating the politics. The only supportive comment Walsh made was that she felt that our PM had been unfairly dealt with by the media, not a highly disputable assertion. And on other programs, Walsh has certainly not come across as a Gillard fancier.

Apart from Savva and Reith, there seems to be a plethora of anti-Gillard, anti-Labor opinionistas that can be drawn upon. Among the many are the odious Piers Akerman, rabidly anti-Gillard Andrew Bolt, turncoat Graham Richardson, the oleaginous Graeme Morris, smarmy Gerard Henderson, the egotistical Joe Hildebrand, past-Liberal politician Ross Cameron, Liberal advocate Judith Sloan, the hard right John Roskam, smart Aleck Tim Wilson, the too-clever-by-half Tom Switzer (the IPA has an abundant supply of panelists that the ABC seems compelled to engage). News Limited has an almost inexhaustible stock of anti-Labor journalists that can serve on panels to inject their learned, but invariably biased opinions: the pontifical Paul Kelly, the let’s-get-rid-of-Gillard Dennis Shanahan, fence-sitter Peter van Onselen, the consistently antagonistic Irme Salusinszky and Henry Ergas. There are many others.

Shock jocks Alan Jones and Ray Hadley are extreme anti-Gillard opinionistas. How many moderate ones are there? Jon Faine on ABC 774 Radio is one. I know of no left-leaning shock jocks. Do you?

As one would expect, panelists drawn from political parties are extreme in their views. George Brandis, Eric Abetz, Barnaby Joyce, Christopher Pyne, Scott Morrison, Julie Bishop and Sophie Mirabella are consistently acerbic and unremittingly negative to Labor, more than matching Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey. This is no surprise, but that doesn’t stop journalists from engaging them on panels and at doorstops to ‘give balance to their programs’. They provide the conflict and entertainment the media craves.

Are there any journalists out there that can and do give a balanced opinion, an opinion that is ready to give credit to, as well as criticize any of the parties? Some of those, who in my opinion fit that specification, are Mike Seccombe, Dennis Atkins, Laura Tingle, David Marr, Ross Gittins, Peter Martin, George Megalogenis, Andrew Probyn; and Steve Cannane, Tim Palmer and Julia Baird of The Drum. None give the impression of being ‘lefties’.

What this piece is arguing is that the electorate is bombarded day after day with opinion from the opinionistas that derives far less from facts and reasoning than from the political orientation, the political preferences, and the attitudes and values of the opinionistas. In other words, it is what political outcome they desire that determines their utterances and writings, not the hard, cold facts, not a logically reasoned conclusion derived from them. In short, their opinions are worthless. All they portray is what they want, what they desperately wish and hope for. Not what logically follows from verifiable facts. We are being sold a pup, by con merchants, deliberately and shamelessly. And we’re fed up with being treated like idiots.

‘Media bias’ has attracted a lot of attention recently in the Fifth Estate. Arguments have arisen about whether it is real or imagined. Ben Eltham wrote about it recently in New Matilda: The Truth About Media Bias . Studies have attempted to define bias and document it. Some find that partisan bias is minimal or non-existent; others suggest bias one way or the other. This piece takes a different tack. It argues that the opinion of opinionistas is worthless, in fact dangerous, when their opinion is not based on facts and logical reasoning, instead being predominately a product of their political orientation, attitudes and values, the more so when their political orientation is strongly partisan. Commenting on the Eltham article, Ross C said pointedly: ”We all should remember that a journalist’s role is to dispassionately document what happens, not cause stuff to happen. Overstepping that mark consistently can destroy credibility, and the transition from journalist to commentator is hard to reverse.” Indeed!

That there are many partisan opinionistas seems undeniable; we see, hear, and read them every day. What might be debatable is the relative proportion of right-leaning and left leaning opinionistas, and how heavily they lean when they do. My impression is that there are many more right-leaning, and that they lean strongly that way. What do you think?

The question that begs an answer, at least for me, is why the right-leaning seem to predominate on current affairs programs on radio and TV and in print. Why are their opinions, which to me are worthless because they lack underpinning evidence and reasoning, solicited so frequently?

A cogent reason would be that some news outlets are actively seeking to bring down the Gillard Government and replace it with an Abbott one. News Limited is one; it looks as if Fairfax has joined them. In ‘breaking news’ in a postscript to an article: Among The True Believers on The Pub Bushfire Bill recounted a discussion he had had with journalists at the recent Community Cabinet meeting: "Tony Abbott has lunch at News Ltd HQ every week." Incredulous, I asked the person to repeat it. "Every week, in private, to discuss the latest ‘Get Gillard’ strategies." BB went on to comment: ”No wonder there’s such a seamless segue between what News writes and what Abbott parrots. He’s dealing with the enemy. They’re writing the script for him.” If this is so, is it any wonder that so many pro-Coalition opinionistas are on the air and in print, hour after hour, day after day, week after week offering their partisan opinions sans evidence, sans logic? It is part of a combined Coalition/News Limited strategy to bring Labor down. As BB reminds us: When they really ARE out to get you, it’s NOT paranoia.

Even leaving aside the conspiracy to which BB alludes, its suits media outlets to use these opinionistas because they generate indignation, now media stock in trade, as NormanK pointed out in a comment on the last piece: ”A few years ago I wrote a fairly lengthy comment here about Mr Abbott's campaign to convince the populace that they had a 'right to be angry'. Angry about a flood levy, angry about a supposed broken promise, angry at renegade independent members who went against the prevailing mood of their electorates, angry about just about everything that stopped their lives from reaching the nirvana that they so obviously deserve. A different theme has emerged in the way in which the popular media approaches just about every story that it covers. Perhaps the tactic has existed for many years but I'm only noticing it now. The new emotion for the decade is 'indignation'. It started manifesting itself in my consciousness when the 'sporting scandal' broke. Remember that 'darkest day' in Australian sport?” NormanK concluded: ”Next time you have the misfortune to be consuming the tabloid media (I include 7.30 & Lateline in this category) ask yourself whether or not indignation is not the primary emotion that the slant of the story is attempting to engender.”

He is right. Opinionistas generate indignation. Indignation about the ‘cost of living’, electricity prices, the cost of housing. It must be someone’s fault. Opinionistas invite people to be indignant about PM Gillard, her ‘poor judgements’, her ‘missteps’, her ‘broken promises’, the carbon tax, the minerals tax, many of her policies (asylum policy, gay marriage), her manner of speech (condescending, schoolmarmish), her demeanour, her appearance, her marital status, her willingness to take the fight up to a male opponent, her audacity negotiating and managing a minority government, ‘against the wishes of the electorate’; the list of ‘indignation triggers’ goes on and on.

In my view, opinionistas are a curse on our political system. Predominantly, they offer opinions based on partisan positions rather than on facts and well-reasoned arguments. Moreover, their opinions deliberately evoke indignation, which incites anger among the electorate and opposition to those in power. This fits nicely into the anti-Government, anti-Gillard narrative that most of the Fourth Estate promotes day after day.

In my view, the whole tenor of political debate is warped, is cursed by opinionistas. What a difference it would make if those who proffer an opinion did so using verifiable evidence and logical reasoning, and steered clear of partisan bias?

‘Pie in the sky’, I hear you murmuring!

What do you think?

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Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey, stop killing confidence

How many times have you heard commentators lamenting how low consumer and business confidence have become? Time and again. How many times have you seen journalists attempting to analyse why? Very few. How many times have you seen them sheet home any of the lack of confidence among consumers and businessmen to the negative utterances of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey? Practically never.

Indeed, it has been only recently that some journalists have been willing to point the finger at them and the Coalition’s unending talking down of the economy. Peter Martin was one who obliquely did so recently.

Here at The Political Sword we have maintained that the negative talk from the Coalition has had a substantial effect on confidence. Read Abbott and Hockey are endangering Australian business, written last November. Also read Do Australian businessmen really believe Tony Abbott?, written a week later, which is on the same theme.

Was this theme echoed in the MSM? Not until recently. Why? For the same reason the MSM highlighted in screaming front page headlines and grotesque photo-shopped photos the alleged misdemeanors of Peter Slipper and the supposed transgressions taken to court by James Ashby, but buried in its back pages Justice Rares condemnation of this Ashby action as ‘an abuse of process’, one intended to damage Slipper personally and politically, and the Gillard Government too. Much of the MSM deliberately and repeatedly buries or distorts the truth for its own commercial and partisan ideological purposes. It does the same with consumer and business confidence.

There are very few in the MSM, and none in News Limited, who will lay a finger on Abbott or Hockey. We have just a few journalists that will say it the way it is – Peter Martin and Ross Gittins are two at Fairfax, and Bernard Keane at Crikey. Let’s look first at an article by Keane: The strange case of the national delusion on cost of living

Here are some edited excerpts from Keane’s piece: ”Essential Research asked voters to give their impressions of how much prices had changed on a range of basic consumer items over the last two to three years… 70% of voters said they were paying “a lot more” for electricity and gas…that corresponds with reality: according to ABS inflation data, electricity prices have increased by 38 index points since December 2009, or over 16% a year. Gas has gone up by 29 index points, or around 11% a year.

“But what about petrol? That’s gone up by just over 16 index points, or just over 6% a year on average – ahead of CPI, but not in the same league as electricity. Yet 50% of voters say they’re paying a lot more than they were three years ago…That’s bordering on the implausible…On water, perceptions look more plausible: 47% said they were paying “a lot more” for water, and water prices have increased 22 index points or around 9% a year on average.

“After that, though, there’s a growing gulf between perceptions of inflation and reality. 43% of voters say they’re paying “a lot more” for insurance…But insurance across the country has only increased 10 index points, or less than 4% a year – around about CPI.

“36% of voters complain they are paying “a lot more” for fruit and vegetables. Fruit and veg prices have only gone up just over 10 index points since December 2009, or less than 4% a year… 28% said they were paying “a lot more” for food generally, when in fact food and non-alcoholic beverages prices have grown at less than the CPI...

“Health costs have gone up 15 points, or just over 5% a year, but 33% said they were paying “a lot more” for medical expenses… 24% thought they were paying “a lot more” for housing (both mortgages and rent) when housing costs have only increased slightly faster than inflation…

“Education costs have gone up by around 16 points, or about 6% a year, ahead of inflation, but only 24% said they were paying “a lot more”.

“One category stands out as being the basis of what is almost a national delusion. Clothing has fallen in price by 7 index points or around 2% a year each year, since 2009 (kids’ clothing has fallen by more, 11 points). But 21% of voters say they’re paying “a lot more” for clothing…

And there’s another factor that distorts perceptions: partisanship. On average, 10% more Liberal voters say they are paying “a lot more” for products compared to Labor voters.

“Is that because Labor voters have a positively-skewed perception of the economy, or because Liberal voters have a negatively-skewed perception? A bit of both, it seems, but more the latter. Both share the delusion about clothing prices…but 77% of Liberal voters more realistically say they’re paying a lot more for electricity, compared to 67% of Labor voters…

“Other categories, though, suggest Liberal voters see price rises everywhere even when they don’t exist. 58% said they were paying “a lot more” for petrol, compared to 41% of Labor voters. 42% said they were paying a lot more for fruit and veg compared to 28% of Labor voters. Insurance was 50% to 38%. Food, 32% to 23%. Medical, 42% to 25%...

“…A substantial proportion of voters will always be convinced inflation is much worse than it is, and in fact filter their perceptions of inflation through partisan bias....”
(my emphasis)

So here is the first piece of evidence – Coalition voters are more pessimistic about price rises than Labor voters. Why? Could it be because they have taken as gospel the negative talk that Abbott and Hockey feed to the electorate every day?

Recently, consumer confidence has been analysed to ascertain from whence the lack of confidence arises. In Coalition voters underpin surge in confidence, Peter Martin writes:

”Supporters of the Coalition are suddenly confident about the economy, moving clearly into positive territory for the first time in two years. The latest Westpac-Melbourne Institute consumer confidence survey shows optimists among Coalition voters outweigh the number of pessimists by five percentage points, a reverse of the recent pattern in which Coalition voters have been strongly negative. Labor voters remain extremely positive, with optimists outweighing pessimists by more than 20 points.

“The lift among Coalition voters has been enough to hoist the overall consumer confidence index from around 100 points to 108 on a scale where 100 means the number of pessimists balance the number of optimists.

“Westpac senior economist Matthew Hassan said the change was primarily the result of the carbon tax. Ahead of its introduction in the middle of last year it pushed the confidence of Coalition voters (but not Labor voters) into a downward spiral. ''There was the point when there was a whole series of overlapping concerns around tax changes - the carbon tax, the mining tax, the global situation was getting worse and in Queensland things looked dire. The incoming government spoke about Queensland being the Spain of Australia. At the same time low- and middle-income households likely to vote Labor were being showered with carbon tax compensation, exacerbating the wedge. In all the time we've been doing this we've never seen as big a deviation. In terms of confidence, we had a divided nation. It was off the charts.''

“Mr Hassan said the improved consumer figures represented a return to normality. The carbon tax had not been as bad as expected, the share market had climbed and interest rates had fallen.

“HSBC Australia chief economist Paul Bloxham hailed the surge in sentiment as a sign interest rate cuts were having their desired effect. ''This result is consistent with what we've had in mind, which is that the soft patch in the Australian economy may be behind us,'' he said.

“Asked whether now was a good time to buy a major household item, an extraordinary 59 per cent of Australians surveyed said yes. Only 16 per cent said no.

“One-quarter of those surveyed expected their personal financial situation to improve in the year ahead. Only one in five expected it to get worse.”

Here is another piece of evidence that it is Coalition voters who are depressing confidence ratings. The thesis of this piece is that this is because they have swallowed whole the Abbott/Hockey doom and gloom narrative.

The weekly Roy Morgan Consumer Confidence Rating of 12 February shows “Consumer Confidence rising to 121.4pts (up 2.9 pts since February 2/3, 2013) after the RBA left Australian interest rates unchanged at a record low of 3%. Consumer Confidence is now 5.7pts higher than at the same time a year ago, February 11/12, 2012 – 15.7. The rise in Consumer Confidence has been driven by an increase in confidence about buying major household items and increasing confidence about personal finances over both the last and the next 12 months.

“Now a much larger majority of 60% (up 6%) of Australians say now is a ‘good time to buy’ major household items compared to just 16% (unchanged) that say now is a ‘bad time to buy’.

“Also, now 34% (up 6%) of Australians believe they are ‘better off” financially than this time last year (the highest since September 22/23, 2012) compared to 27% (down 2%) that say they are ‘worse off’.

“Australians are also more positive about their personal finances over the next 12 months with 43% (up 2%) saying they expect their family to be ‘better off’ financially while 14% (down 1%) expect to be ‘worse off’ financially.

“Now 39% (up 2%) of Australians expect ‘good times’ for the Australian economy over the next five years compared to 18% (up 2%) that expect Australia to have ‘bad times’

“However 29% (up 4%) of Australians expect ‘bad times’ economically over the next twelve months compared to 35% (up 2%) of Australians that expect ‘good times.”

So it seems that consumer confidence is on the rise. Which begs the question, why has it been so low for so long?

Clearly, there are many factors. The residual effect of the GFC lingered long. People are still more inclined to save; less inclined to make extravagant purchases, something retailers testify; more prudent about buying an expensive house, as estate agents tell us, and banks are less inclined to lend for this purpose. This prudence is not without merit as many were spending wildly beyond their means, encouraged by retailers such as Harvey Norman, maxing out their credit cards, and entering into maxi-mortgages to buy their four bedroom, three bathroom McMansions, complete with al fresco dining areas, and home entertainment theatres.

Then there was the Eurozone financial crisis with the dire threat of default on loans by the governments of Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and even Italy, a threat that worried many voters, one that eroded their confidence. Politicians here, to wit Campbell Newman, referred to Australia as ‘another Spain’, and even Joe Hockey hinted that Australian too was a sovereign risk. Add to that the ‘financial cliff’ saga in the US with the Republicans blocking the Democrats at every turn, together with the poor economic data coming from there, and you have an ugly picture that would depress anyone already feeling insecure.

But while there were these global factors that undoubtedly influenced the thinking and feeling of the people, there was a persistent local factor: the continual daily talking down of the Australian economy and the Gillard Government’s capacity to manage it by Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey.

While commentators largely blame overseas factors for the depressed confidence of consumers and businessmen alike, they show almost no willingness to recognize the elephant in the room – the negative, continually depressing talk of Abbott and Hockey, the demeaning of the Australian economy, day after day. What evidence is there for this assertion? Just look at the figures quoted above. It has been largely Coalition voters, those who swallow the Abbott/Hockey propaganda without question, who have pulled down consumer confidence, and I suggest also the confidence of businessmen, especially those involved in retail.

Their talk of the disaster that the carbon tax would bring about affected people’s confidence, and I suggest that the fact that the dire predictions of Abbott and Hockey, and of course Barnaby Joyce and his ‘$100 lamb roasts’, have come to naught, has ameliorated their anxiety and boosted their confidence. There seems to be an uncomplicated ‘cause – effect’ relationship between carbon tax doom and gloom and diminished consumer confidence, and between the dissapation of that gloom and improving confidence. We know that there is more to it than that, but the relationship seems germane.

In Why voters believe the economy is in trouble, Ross Gittins offers another reason for low confidence:

“With all the silly talk about 'the cautious consumer' and with punters blissfully unaware that retailing accounts for only about a third of consumer spending, all the highly publicized complaints of the Gerry Harveys helped convince the public not that the retailers have their own troubles, but that the economy must be going down the tube.

“Then there's the contribution of the unending fuss about ‘debt and deficit’, in which the government has been completely outfoxed by the Liberals. Although every economically literate person knows Australia doesn't have a significant level of public debt, the opposition has had great success exploiting the public's ignorance of public finance and of just how big the economy is ($1.5 trillion a year) by quoting seemingly mind-boggling levels of gross public debt.

“With much of this argy bargy being reported by political rather than economic journalists - how many times have you heard talk of 'the economy's deficit'? – it is hardly surprising the public has acquired an exaggerated impression of the economic significance of the budget deficit. Ironically, the budget deficit is a case where a cyclical (temporary) problem has been taken to be a structural (long-lasting) one.”

And who were responsible for all the spurious ‘debt and deficit’ talk – all this scary chatter about this nation being over its head in debt and borrowing a million dollars a day to service it? Abbott, Hockey, and bringing up the rear, Andrew Robb and Mathias Cormann.

And who in the media pointed out that the nation’s debt was miniscule, indeed much lower proportionately that the homebuyer taking out an average mortgage. It was left to Ross Gittins and Peter Martin. Even the AFR, that ought to have been exposing this, defaulted. With Michael Stutchbury at the helm there, I suppose we ought not to be surprised!

This piece asserts that much of the poor consumer confidence and low business confidence has been the direct result of Abbott, Hockey and the Coalition talking down the economy, mendaciously painting a dismal picture of the state of our nation, shamefully eroding confidence and damaging the economy for its own political ends, aided and abetted by a largely compliant media.

That other factors, some global, are operating on confidence is obvious, but ignoring the massive elephant trumpeting in the room where the people live – the Abbott/Hockey/Coalition elephant – is to miss what I believe is a major factor: the negativity, the doom, the gloom, the cynicism, the dismay, the distrust and the pessimism that these cynical, self-serving, ruthless politicians propagate every day, every week, every month.

And most of the media remains shamefully mute.

Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey, stop killing confidence.

What do you think?

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Don’t mention the polls

This is an open letter to all Federal Labor parliamentarians.

Of all people, you must know that polls of voting intention this far from the scheduled election date of September 14 are not predictive of the election outcome. Even the pollsters themselves tell us that. They agree that trends over time are the only useful pointers.

Yet every time a poll comes out, you are out there, whether it's good or bad, responding to the inevitable questions of journalists, whom you know very well are more interested in leadership speculation, with all the conflict and entertainment that engenders, than the policy issues that matter to the people. Why do you do it? You know that what you say, whether positive, negative, or neutral, will be echoed on countless TV, radio, and current affairs programs, and in the print and online media, thereby escalating the drama that the media deliberately sets out to create, while blocking out the critically important messages you need to transmit. Why do you do it?

Why can’t you take Basil Fawlty’s line?


The media is out there deliberately baiting you, yet so many of you take the bait – hook, line and sinker – time and again.

When you do, you add to the uncertainty that the media is deliberately creating, thereby undermining your leader, Prime Minister Julia Gillard, your own Party, and your chances of electoral success. Surely, you must know that!

What is even more destructive, SOME OF YOU seem to be intentionally white-anting PM Gillard’s authority, and the outstanding work she is doing under difficult circumstances, with your so-called ‘back-grounding’ of journalists, who, like the insatiable piranhas they are, devour every morsel you offer, piranhas who would devour the entire Labor Party if they could.

Labor supporters despair when they hear of this subversive behavior. Unless journalists are entirely making this up, there are SOME OF YOU, who knows how many, sabotaging your leader and the Party. That is reprehensible and unforgivable. In war, people like you are taken out and shot.

We know that some of you are Rudd supporters, and thereby Gillard antagonists, but we don’t get to know the names of those of you who are actively back-grounding journalists. If Labor supporters did know your names, you would be deluged with angry emails insisting that you desist. Paul Howes had some words to describe your despicable behaviour – ‘gutless’ was one of them.

While no one would deny you the right to support whom you prefer, that is a world away from sabotaging the leader, elected just twelve months ago by a two to one majority, the one who is in the process of preparing for an election where Labor is seeking another term, where you as a Labor parliamentarian would enjoy another period in power.

We know that some of you are fiercely loyal to Julia Gillard, and that you too despair of the corrosive behavior of your disloyal colleagues. We imagine you have spoken to those whom you know are disloyal, but it seems to no avail. They continue with what seems to be a deluded belief that returning Kevin Rudd to Prime Ministership would somehow reverse the current polls and lead the Party to a resounding victory, even after he has repeatedly denied that that is his intent. Presumably, that belief is predicated on the polls that ask people what Party they would vote for under Gillard and Rudd leadership, which always come out in favour of Rudd. Surely, these malcontents can’t be stupid enough to base their strategy on such unreliable polls, or on private polling and focus groups, the opinions of which could change in a flash, especially with News Limited on the case, leaving these hopefuls high and dry.

Please try to talk some sense into the heads of these speculative malcontents, insist they get behind their leader, and fight the awful prospect of an Abbott government, tooth and nail. There is the enemy.

Let them know that loyal Labor supporters are furious with their subversive, treacherous behavior, and demand they desist immediately.

There is a Newspoll out this coming week. If it is even mildly bad for Labor, you know the vicious cycle of leadership speculation will start all over again. You must stop the sabotage and the disruption it evokes, which boosts Tony Abbott in his fevered quest for power, while eroding support for your leader, Julia Gillard.

And even if the poll is more favourable to Labor than the last, don’t be sucked into comment – you know it will be perverted to feed the frenzied piranhas thrashing about in their media puddle.


If a piranha rings to bite you for leadership information, hang up. If a piranha bites you at a doorstop, do an Abbott: just walk away.

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When will Tony Abbott fill the gaping void in his latest slogan: Hope. Reward. Opportunity?

The image of would-be Prime Minister Abbott as a hollow man, a lightweight on policy, and an economic dilettante would not have been diminished, let alone erased by his address in Canberra to the National Press Club of Australia: HOPE. REWARD. OPPORTUNITY. at the end of January. Here’s why.

‘Hope’, ‘reward’ and ‘opportunity’ are fine sounding words, embracing as they do laudable concepts, worthy aspirations that most citizens would applaud.

Regrettably, Abbott’s use of these admirable goals perpetuates his superficial three-word slogan approach to politics. He and his minders know that such short snappy cascades will be memorable, even if policy-poor. As were his other three word slogans: ‘Stop the Taxes’, ‘Repay the Debt’ and ‘Stop the Boats’. They stuck in people’s mind. So we ought not to be surprised at a reprise of such Coalition sloganeering.

Let’s see then if there is any substantive underpinning of these aspirations as we read through the rest of his address. Not all of it can be reproduced below, as that would make the piece too long, but the full text is available via a link at the end. There you can assess the whole address yourself.

It should be acknowledged at the outset that this address was presented as Abbott’s and the Coalition’s view of the past, and their vision of the future under a Coalition government. So it would be unrealistic to expect it to be redolent with detail. Nevertheless it is not unreasonable to expect some hint of how the vision would become reality and how much it would cost. Readers will be disappointed at their almost complete absence.

Abbott’s speech is in italics. My comments/questions are in bold.

”Here in Canberra, we must never forget that our task is to serve the Australian people. The political battles we have to fight are but a means to that end.

“Almost every day for the past two years, my colleagues and I have been listening to you, the Australian people.

“You’ve told us about your lives, your families and your hopes for the future.

“Since the last election, I’ve visited 215 businesses, I’ve held 43 community forums, and I’ve hosted 33 local morning teas.

“My senior colleagues have done many more.

“It’s clear to us what you, our fellow Australians, want:
- you want less pressure on your cost of living;
- you want more job security;
- you want our borders under control;
- you want stability and certainty returned to decision-making; and
- you want leaders you can trust.”

It would be hard to quibble with the first two 'wants' – they are motherhood statements. The last three will resonate with some, but they imply that our borders are not under control, that decision making now lacks certainty, and that trust in leaders is lacking – the first batch of Abbott’s barbs. He subtly introduces into his assessment of what the people want a condemnation of the present Government. So much for his stated intention to replace negativity with the positive Mr Abbott! He either can’t help himself, or his words are deliberate.

Let’s now take a look at the Abbott plans:

“Our plans for a better Australia are our response to you. The carbon tax will be gone – so power prices will fall.”

A promise easy to make, but problematic to implement. His theoretical assertion about falling prices will likely never eventuate. And of course he makes no mention of the negative effects on carbon pollution of removing the tax. Nor is there any mention of the removal of compensation.

”The mining tax will be gone – so investment and jobs will increase.”

Again, a confident pledge that may never come about, and another assertion not founded on fact. In fact, since the mining tax was introduced investment and jobs have already increased – why will they now increase when it is stopped? No rationale is offered.

”The boats will be stopped – because what’s been done before, can be done again”

Here again the assumption, one that the Coalition has made for ages, is that reintroduction of the Howard three-headed routine will have the same effect as it is believed it did a decade ago. No evidence is offered; we are expected simply to swallow this because of its superficial plausibility.

”And the budget will be back in the black – so government has the resources to deliver the services that are really needed.”

There it is: a confident assurance, without caveat, without qualification, without an explanation of how they will deliver their surpluses. Joe Hockey insists there will be a surplus in his first budget.

”Our vision for Australia is about you.

“Our ambition is for more empowered, more capable citizens – rather than bigger, more interfering government.

“This is the golden thread that runs through all our policy commitments.”

These are bland, motherhood statements that anyone could make. They are devoid of buttressing facts and reasoning. They are nothing more than hollow statements, empty aspirations. There is no hint of how a Coalition government might empower citizens.

”Lower taxes, less red tape, more opportunities for work and more responsive schools and hospitals reflect our trust in the Australian people to know what’s right for them.”

Make of that what you can, but don’t ask how taxes are to be lowered when all we have heard from Abbott is increased taxes, or how red tape will be lessened, or how more opportunities for work or more responsive schools and hospitals are to be had. We will have to wait patiently for that detail!

Government is important – my colleagues and I are in the parliament because it matters and because we care about our country – but, in a democracy, the people must come first.

“My colleagues and I want to reach out to all the decent people of our country to reassure you that government can have your best interests at heart – rather than just its own survival.

· We respect the commitment that working people bring to each job.
· We know Australian families’ struggle just to make ends meet.
· We honour the contribution that older people have made to our country’s strengths.
· We admire the way that small business people will mortgage a home to serve customers and employ staff.
· We understand that farmers are the original conservationists.
· And we are proud of the migrants who come here, from the four corners of the earth, not to change our way of life but to share it.

Look at the assumptions underlying these persuasive statements:

… best interests at heart – rather than just its own survival, implies that ‘survival’ is the only aim of the Gillard Government, and that it does not have the best interests of the people at heart.

“Families struggle just to make ends meet”.

Do all families? Why not “some families…”

As Australians, each of you has a right to elected leaders who are straight with you and who don’t waste your money.

Of course, but the implication is that the Gillard Government is not ‘straight’ and wastes your money. So he gives some well worn examples:

”Before the last election, the government promised that it would deliver a budget surplus but no carbon tax. In fact, it’s delivered a carbon tax but no budget surplus.

So my pledge to you is that I won’t say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards because fibbing your way into office is what’s brought our public life into disrepute.

Tony Abbott would never lie to the people, would he?

“Should the Liberal and National parties win the next election, we will restore the hope, reward and opportunity that ought to be every Australian’s birthright.

“It all starts with a strong economy. A more productive and more competitive economy means more prosperity for everyone to share.

“The Coalition understands that it’s the hard work of ordinary people, not government, that generates wealth.

“Government’s job is to make it easier, not harder, for business to be more productive.

“The Coalition understands that every dollar that government spends is a dollar taken from you in taxes today or two dollars taken from our children in a few years’ time when the debt has to be repaid.

“That’s why government has to be as careful with its spending as you are with yours – and why government has to be as keen to boost national income as you are to boost family income."

Here we have a repeat of the initial slogan and more motherhood statements, replete with thinly-disguised barbs. Then as night follows day, we have a set of negatives:

“For this government, though, the solution to every problem is more spending, more taxing and more borrowing – even though you can never cure too much debt and deficit with yet more debt and deficit. As every family knows, it can’t be Christmas forever. Eventually, February comes and the credit card has to be paid off.

“A stronger economy is not an end in itself – but it is the necessary foundation for the better services, stronger borders, cleaner environment and modern infrastructure that everyone wants.

“So Australia’s challenge is to realise our economic potential so that we can all enjoy the benefits that prosperity brings.

“Two budgets ago, the government promised to deliver half a million more jobs within two years.

“It’s achieved less than a third of that with just three months to go.

“Since 2007, GDP per person has grown at only one third of the rate achieved under the Howard government, which now seems like a lost golden age of prosperity.

“Australia’s multi-factor productivity has actually declined by three per cent over the last five years.

“People are saving at levels not seen in 20 years because no one trusts this government to save and few believe its claims that the economy is in good shape.

“In 2004-5, with unemployment at about five per cent, the Howard government delivered a surplus of one and half per cent of GDP despite terms of trade almost 40 per cent lower – yes, lower – than last year when the Gillard government delivered a deficit – a deficit – of three per cent of GDP.

“The Prime Minister was right when she said that “you can’t run this country if you can’t manage its budget”. So when the Treasurer finally admitted that his “come hell or high water” surplus wouldn’t happen, the government branded itself an economic failure."

Having slagged off the Government comprehensively, Abbott now indulges in self-adulation.

“Unlike this government, the Coalition can deliver a stronger economy because we understand that governments have to live within their means. It’s in our DNA – as the record shows.

“The Coalition’s last eleven budgets delivered ten surpluses.

“This year’s deficit will be Labor’s eleventh in a row.

“The Coalition can keep government spending in check because we’re not beholden to the Greens.

“And we can make the economy more productive because we’re not dependent on the unions.

“Let’s be clear. The coming election will be a referendum on the carbon tax. Above all, it will be a referendum on economic management because stronger economic growth is what government has to deliver."

Coalition strategists have these chunks of boilerplate that they drop into Abbott’s addresses ad nauseam. We have heard them all before, endlessly. What follows is Abbott’s preamble to his plan.

“Here at the Press Club 12 months ago, I outlined the Coalition’s plan for a stronger and more prosperous economy, and a safe and secure Australia… positive plans for a stronger economy, stronger communities, stronger borders, a cleaner environment and modern infrastructure.”

Here, would you believe, is ‘the plan’:

"So far, the Coalition has made literally dozens of big policy commitments:
- We’ll abolish the carbon tax – because it’s the quickest way to reduce power prices.
- We’ll abolish the mining tax – because it’s the quickest way to boost investment and jobs.
- And we’ll cut red tape costs by at least $1 billion a year – to give small business a much-needed break.
- By restoring the jobs growth of the Howard government, there’ll be two million more jobs over a decade.
- There’ll be border protection policies that have been proven to stop the boats.
- And there’ll be revitalised work for the dole.
- There’ll be a swift start on Melbourne’s East-West link, on Sydney’s WestConnex and on Brisbane’s Gateway motorway upgrade.
- And the Pacific Highway will finally be duplicated well within this decade.
- We’ll reduce emissions by planting more trees, delivering better soils and using smarter technology rather than a carbon tax that just sends our jobs overseas.
- There’ll be a one-stop-shop for faster environmental approvals.
- There’ll be a fully restored tough cop on the beat, the Australian Building and Construction Commission, to deliver $5 billion a year in productivity improvements.
- There’ll be the same penalties for union officials and company officers who commit the same offence.
- There’ll be schools and hospitals run by community leaders, not by distant bureaucrats, so they’re more responsive to the parents and patients they serve.
- There’ll be a new Colombo Plan that’s a two way street between Australia and our region sending our best and brightest to study in the region and bringing their best here.
- There’ll be a comprehensive review of childcare so it’s more responsive to the 24/7 needs of today’s working families.
- There will be no unexpected changes that are detrimental to people’s superannuation.
- There will be no further reductions in defence spending – that’s already fallen to the lowest level, as a percentage of GDP, since 1938.
- And we will protect spending on medical research where Australia’s talented scientists give us such a comparative advantage.

“These are all commitments that we’ve already made and that you can trust me to keep.”

On and on it goes – lots of grand promises, several using words we heard earlier in the speech, but nowhere any sign of how it will achieve any of them or what it will cost. Look through the list again. See if you can see anything but aspirations. See if you can see any genuine plans, see if you can detect any how, when, where, and at what cost.

“…The government thinks that by announcing September 14 as polling day, it can force the Coalition to announce all our policy detail now. The Coalition will release our costings after the government releases theirs – after the Budget and before polling day. It won’t be easy to find the savings to fund tax cuts without a carbon tax but we won’t shirk the hard decisions, such as being up front with people that the school kids’ bonus will go – because it’s a cash splash with borrowed money that has nothing to do with education. Between now and polling day, we will be constantly developing our policy commitments so that you know exactly what will happen should the government change.

“On broadband, I’ve often said that the Coalition will deliver higher speeds sooner and more affordably than Labor’s nationalised monopoly NBN. We’re committed to super high speed broadband that’s affordable for everyone and built sooner rather than later. But with so many competing priorities, the last thing Australians need is another $50 billion plus in borrowed money to deliver higher speeds – but only in a decade’s time and at about triple the current monthly price. We won’t throw good money after bad but we won’t dismantle what’s been built. Our fibre-to-the-node plan will deliver superfast broadband for a fraction of the price and in a fraction of the time required to deliver fibre to the front door.”

All empty promises and hollow rhetoric, with no detail, no plans, no costings, no outcome measures – just empty words, and a few nasties thrown in to scare the less well off.

Reproducing the whole Abbott speech would take too much space, but if you want to check whether my assertions of hollowness, of empty rhetoric, are accurate, read the rest of the speech here. In my opinion it gets no better – there is just more of the same. If you can stomach reading it, he offers still more negativity and wallows in sickening self-aggrandisement. He ends with a flourish:

We are a great country and a great people let down by a poor government.

“That’s what really has to change – and now the date has been set. I’m ready for the election.”

So is Julia Gillard. She has runs on the board with over 430 pieces of legislation already passed. She is doing, as well as promising, she plans and gets the job done; Abbott engages in hollow talk. And I suspect that this empty rhetoric will continue almost until polling day as Abbott hides, for fear that someone will discern his emptiness, probe his hollowness, and find holes in his costings, as usual.

Take your pick between an achiever who is getting things done, and a negator who knocks everything the Government does, promises wildly, but never reveals how he will deliver.

Compare the two National Press Club of Canberra speeches, given one day apart. Here is Julia Gillard’s address , and the video.

You will note a stark difference between her address and Tony Abbott’s. Her speech is loaded with facts and figures, plans and achievements. His is largely empty rhetoric, light on facts and plans, but redolent with high-sounding promises.

For another stark contrast with the Abbott address, look at what Barack Obama had to say on 13 February in his State of the Union address. Loaded with action plans, and should Congress fail to act, contingency plans to get things done. Action on climate change was a notable example of this.

While it might be argued that our Prime Minister’s address and President Obama’s address were delivered by serving leaders in power, and that it would be unreasonable to expect a would-be leader awaiting the reins of power to match the richness of the facts these leaders presented or the plans they offered and the financial backing they guaranteed, it IS reasonable to ask when the Leader of the Opposition, who will be begging us to elect him leader of the nation on 14 September, will give us more than motherhood statements and hollow talk, when he will reveal his detailed plans for delivering his many aspirations, and when he will account for how, when, where and at what cost he will deliver them.

He can’t keep fobbing us off indefinitely with more three word slogans, empty promises that have no substance, and walking away from the hard questions, while assuring us we will know all his plans and costings ‘in good time’ before the election, when we suspect from what he and Joe Hockey have said, that they will come out too late to digest.

We need to know, and it is up to our political media to prize this out of him very soon.

What do you think?

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Why does the Coalition choose to live in an imaginary world?

Because it suits Coalition members to do so. Why do so many of those in the MSM choose to crawl into that imaginary world with the Coalition? Because it suits them too.

The refuge the Coalition and its supporters have taken in their make-believe world has reached pathological proportions. They give the impression they believe the fantasies and myths they have themselves woven, that they have become addicted to them. It goes back a long way, and they show no sign of recovery. Addictive personalities know that while recognition of their condition is challenging, cure depends on it.

There are so many examples of the mythical world of Tony Abbott and his colleagues that we don’t have to go back all that far to see the telltale signs.

Remember the global financial crisis? What crisis, Coalition members recited in unison? What crisis, echoed News Limited? Joe Hockey talked about ‘the recession we never had’ as if it was a figment of economists’ imagination. ‘What recession’ he asked. For those with failing memory, or those who simply cannot accommodate uncomfortable facts, in 2008 the world suffered the largest financial downturn since the Great Depression of the thirties. The Rudd Government acted swiftly, following the Ken Henry dictum, ‘go early, go hard, go households’. A stimulus package was devised and implemented swiftly: a rapid injection of cash payments, followed by programs such as the Home Insulation Program and the Building the Education Revolution program, designed to stimulate the construction industry and support local businesses, while replacing aging school infrastructure or adding to it, followed by a more unhurried roll out of bigger infrastructure projects. It had the desired effect of avoiding recession here, keeping workers in employment and stimulating retail trade.

But in its make-believe bubble, the Coalition scarcely recognized the peril we faced, the potential it presented for massive unemployment, and the danger it posed to business. It criticized the Government’s actions. Malcolm Turnbull, in his Woodford Festival address last month, flagellated the Government for saying that the Coalition had voted against the stimulus package, insisting it had voted for it. In an address on truth in politics, it was curious that Turnbull chose to tell only half the truth. The Coalition had voted for the smaller first tranche but against the larger second. In the bubble that Turnbull lives with his Coalition colleagues, he apparently believes what he says. That is the problem.

Australia not only survived the global downturn, but also prospered, standing head and shoulders among comparable nations. It evoked words of high praise for its management of our economy during the GFC from the IMF, the World Bank and economists worldwide; our Treasurer Wayne Swan received the Euromoney Magazine’s award of the ‘world’s finance minister of the year’. Yet Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott were out there denying that Swan had done anything out of the ordinary. Why, because the GFC hardly existed here! Whenever they emerged from their bubble to travel overseas, they thumped their chests with pride at the state of our economy, but back home they tell anyone who will listen how poor it is, how mismanaged it is by an incompetent Government that has no idea how to manage money, which is heavily into reckless spending, debt and deficit. They are still at it. Although completely contrary to the facts of the economy, they drew many in the MSM into their fantasy world to sing in unison from their song-sheet, and in the process convinced many in the public likewise, a public that still ranks the Coalition above Labor in the management of the economy, and trusts it more to manage any future GFC. It is one thing to live in an imaginary world oneself, but to suck others in is reprehensible.

The fantasy continues to this day. Even now Joe Hockey hammers the Government because it borrowed money to stimulate the economy, although it is now in the process of repaying it and steadily reducing the deficit. He talks as if there was no need for the borrowing; there was no crisis to be averted, no economic disaster to be avoided. He is still on the ‘reckless spending’, ‘debt and deficit’, ‘Swan will never bring in a surplus budget’ bandwagon, as if none of what the Government did was necessary at all. It was all a bad dream that really needed no action, but in the throes of a nightmare the Government ‘panicked’ and recklessly reacted leaving us bereft and in monumental debt, spending a million dollars a day in interest. Joe Hockey would have us believe the myth that the economy and our finances are in a desperate state, when every rational economist, here and overseas, tells us the opposite.

Recently, the fund manager of BlackRock, an investment company that holds $US3.7 trillion worldwide in government bonds, in his latest update of sovereign risk, ranked Australian government bonds as the world's seventh least risky, up from 10th least risky three months ago, adding that no other nation has managed to jump three places in the latest survey. Although the finding is at odds with a claim made by Joe Hockey last August that Labor was "adversely impacting Australia's sovereign risk profile", Hockey still disagrees. BlackRock's Australian head of fixed income, Steve Miller, insisted that Australia's position was "exceedingly strong" and strengthening, but Hockey still differs. Facts are irrelevant to him in his fantasyland.

Joe lives happily in his mythical world of make believe, talking down the economy because it suits him, because it suits his narrative. He surely can’t believe his fantasies. Only the delusional could. So he simply tells lies to suit his and his colleagues’ political purposes.

Lying has been par for the course for a long while for the Coalition. It created a make-believe world around the HIP, where it declared Minister Garratt was guilty of ‘industrial manslaughter’ when four workers died installing ceiling insulation, all of which were subsequently found to have succumbed because of poor industrial safety practices. But in the Coalition's imaginary world Garratt might as well have killed them by his own neglect. News Limited screamed in harmony.

The BER was over 97% successful according to three official reports by Brad Orgill, but in the Coalition’s fantasy world, in its imaginary bubble, it was a monumental disaster, a shocking example of Labor’s profligate waste and mismanagement, with schools and parents united in opposition to this intrusion into their hallowed precincts. Julia Gillard Memorial Halls were the subject of ridicule, yet Coalition members turned up at the openings to catch a little of the reflected admiration and praise that flowed on those occasions. They emerged from their fantasy world long enough to enjoy real world recognition for a good job well done, even although they had opposed the BER all the way. The Australian newspaper, Australia’s preeminent mythmaker, eagerly followed the Coalition into its make-believe world, publishing column after column, month after month, purportedly exposing the ‘waste and mismanagement’. We hear little from that paper of the BER now because its anti-BER campaign has served its purpose – it has drawn many voters onto the BER fantasy island to sing the ‘waste and mismanagement’ song reflexly on cue. Don’t be surprised though by the reprise that will come election time.

Perhaps the most grotesque world of make believe was the one constructed by Tony Abbott with the sycophantic Greg Hunt bringing up the rear, who insisted that the evil carbon tax, ‘a tax built on a lie’, would force prices up and up and up, costing the housewife a fortune every time she opened her fridge or turned to her traditional task of ironing. Barnaby Joyce told us all that lamb roasts would cost $100. Whole industries and towns would be wiped out, and countless workers thrown on the dole queue.

The Coalition had plenty of support from News Limited, which painted sad pictures of struggling families on $150,000 a year facing untold financial stress under the carbon tax. How many voters were sucked into that bubble of make believe we shall never know, but the unpopularity of the carbon tax showed up time and again in opinion polls.

Now of course, over seven months after a price on carbon began, more and more realize they were conned. They now know that Abbott, Hunt, Joyce, Hockey and Co. sucked them into an imaginary mythical world replete with demons and dragons breathing fire. The carbon tax, like the Medusa, had a hideous face disfigured by all manner of venomous snakes to strike down our citizens. Now that they have awoken, the people realize it was just a bad dream, for some even a nightmare, that vanished with the dawn. Many now realize that this dream world, this bizarre fantasy, was a deliberately constructed product of strategic planners in the Coalition and at News Limited, for which they will pay the price for their deception, for their deliberate ‘calling wolf’. You can fool people only some of the time. While Michelle Grattan struggled to give Abbott even the tiniest slap on the wrist for ‘over-egging’ the effects of the carbon tax; many voters will not struggle planting their boot where it hurts most.

Another fantasy that Abbott and Hunt created is the Coalition’s Direct Action Plan to combat climate change. Although it will cost each household $1,300 a year, a fact almost buried by our MSM, they expect the people to crawl into the imaginary world they have constructed where 20 million trees will be planted, on semi-arid land (because farmers need all the arable land to grow food and fibre), where by definition water is scarce, by Abbott’s 15,000 strong Green Army, which will need to be recruited, deployed, housed in semi-arid environments, and of course paid. No mention is ever made of the logistics of such an exercise in a nation where labour is in short supply. It is pure fantasy. No respectable economist endorses the scheme, and environmentalists assert that it will take at least five years before growing trees could become effective carbon sinks. Yet, the MSM scarcely utters a word of condemnation for this make believe scheme, not even a word of caution. The public is allowed, even encouraged to walk into the Abbott/Hunt fantasyland of a Direct Action Plan as if it is real, as if it can work. It is a myth. They are relying on its name, and the feeling of plausibility that it evokes, to convince the people it is real. But it is fiction, deliberately planned fiction. Hunt has recently added to the fantasy by saying it is ‘inconceivable’ that Labor would not support the Coalition in abolishing the carbon tax, should Labor lose in 2013.

If you think that my accusation that the Coalition and its fellow travelers live in an imaginary world is insufficiently contemporary, reflect on Joe Hockey’s recent comments about Labor’s concession that it might not be able to meet its planned budget surplus. Why might this be so? Even the disinterested must know that the prices for iron ore, coal, and gas have come off their peak, that demand from big buyers such as China has fallen, and that as a result revenue from mining has fallen far below expectations, expectations based on estimates made years previously.

Yet Joe Hockey, talking from his imaginary world where he avoids acknowledging that anything has changed, would have us believe that lower commodity prices and diminished sales are illusory and therefore ought to have no effect on revenue. At least he hopes, as does his leader, that we will believe that piece of make-believe and swallow his line that failing to reach a surplus is just another ‘broken promise’, and a ‘solemnly made one’ to boot. Hockey’s charade continued all this week in QT, where he tabled copies of hundreds of instances where a surplus had been promised, although it had been pointed out by the PM in her NPC address, and repeatedly in answers to questions, the economic facts underlying her change of tack. Wayne Swan marvelled that Hockey and the Coalition could be in such denial of these facts, could live in their ‘alternative universe’ where such facts are of no consequence, and could not understand that Labor considered it sounder economically to protect jobs and foster growth than seek a surplus at their cost.

Hockey avoids reality. Competing as he does with his leader for the title of mythmaker-in-chief, he retreats into his own fantasyland where the only facts allowed in are the ones he finds convenient; the inconvenient ones are dispersed in a puff of blue smoke at the tip of his magic inconvenient-fact wand. His intent is simply to lampoon the Government and his counterpart, to reinforce the ‘Labor can’t manage money’ myth, and to add ‘another Labor lie’ to the Coalition’s long list.

Hockey even had the temerity to insist that the recent lowering of interest rates was a sign that the economy was tanking, this from a man who has boasted endlessly that interest rates will always be lower under a Coalition government. He walks into his own fantasyland where low interest rates under Labor are bad, but under the Coalition are good. As Humpty Dumpty would have said: ‘Interest rates can mean whatever I want them to mean’.

In their fantasy worlds, Abbott and Hockey admit no bouquets for the Gillard Government’s many reforms and accomplishments, but, like squirrels hoarding for winter, are able to accommodate any number of brickbats to hurl at the Government. Anything that might be used to demean the PM or her Government is stored for future use. Even on the occasion of Julia Gillard visiting her recently widowed mother for Christmas was used by Hockey to demean her as gutless for not returning to Canberra to make the deficit announcement.

Yet, he and his Coalition colleagues seem able to airbrush away any suggestion that there has been a conspiracy to imperil the elected government in what is now termed ‘Ashbygate'. The Coalition fantasyland disallows admission to anything that is damaging to it.

This piece asserts that the Coalition, its prime spokesmen on matters economic, Abbott, Hockey, Cormann, and Joyce, and its many sycophantic media journalists, live in an imaginary world that Coalition strategists construct in order to run a narrative that is consistently negative to the Gillard Government.

I hope this piece will establish a mindset among readers about what is really happening, rather than what the largely compliant media would have us believe. We need to go into 'politics 2013' aware of how the public is being conned, over and over again, with myth after myth. Realizing that most voters are disinterested in politics and many disgusted with the political play they have seen for two years now, knowing how messages need to be simple and plausible even if dishonest, Coalition strategists construct plausible, even attractive imaginary worlds, fantasylands into which they lure the incautious and the disinterested to soak up the fantasy, to convince the unthinking that at every step, with every move, the Gillard Government is a disaster, an ongoing failure from which recovery is impossible.

But these strategists, these political figures, these columnists are not stupid. They are intelligent and cunning. So the question that begs an answer is: ‘Do they really believe this crap?’ If they do, they are delusional and ought to be on medication. If they don’t, they are unmitigated liars determined to deceive the people of Australia and con them into voting Coalition. The latter alternative more aptly fits the bill.

What do you think?

If you decide to disseminate this post by activating the ‘Disseminate this post’ option in the shaded panel at the foot or top of this piece, it will be sent to the following pre-selected Federal parliamentarians, in alphabetical order: Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz, Adam Bandt, Julie Bishop, David Bradbury, George Brandis, Greg Combet, Mathias Cormann, Craig Emerson, Peter Garratt, Julia Gillard, Joe Hockey, Greg Hunt, Robert Oakeshott, Christopher Pyne, Andrew Robb, Bill Shorten, Arthur Sinodinos, Tony Smith, Wayne Swan, Warren Truss, Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Windsor, Penny Wong and Nick Xenophon.

Forty-nine questions for Tony Abbott about global warming

As the mainstream media seems unwilling to, or incapable of asking Tony Abbott to explain his way of thinking about global warming, and more importantly explain his policies to combat it, let’s do so here. There are critically important questions that need answers if the electorate is to choose between Labor and the Coalition at the coming election. How can it vote without knowing?

First, let’s tease out where Abbott stands. Let’s not bother with Greg Hunt. Despite his expertise in environmental issues, his opinions are irrelevant as he slavishly follows everything Abbott says, and even if he doesn’t believe it, he has an array of weasel words to avoid disagreeing with his master. Abbott calls all the shots. Let’s not worry about Warren Truss with his bizarre statement that the recent bushfires have emitted as much CO2 as a decade of burning coal, or Barnaby Joyce either. The fact that the cost of a lamb roast is falling, rather than hiking to $100 as he predicted it would with the carbon tax, has cruelled what little credibility on climate change Barnaby ever had.

For starters, how can we know what Abbott really believes? Is it: ‘Climate change is crap.’ uttered at a meeting in Beaufort, an utterance subsequently airbrushed over with Abbott-speak? Is it: ‘Climate change is occurring, and mankind is contributing, but the extent is uncertain.’? Is it: ‘The science is highly contentious, to say the least.’? Is it: ‘If man-made CO2 was quite the villain that many of these people say it is, why hasn't there just been a steady increase [in temperature] starting in 1750, and moving in a linear way up the graph?’ Or is it: ‘It was hotter in Jesus’ days.’? We know he doesn’t accept responsibility for his spoken words, only for scripted, written ones. Has he written anything on the subject? Point us to it.

Is his willingness to publically associate himself with arch climate denier Lord Monckton a sign that he endorses Monckton’s views, or at least considers them credible?

So the questions for the man who wants to be PM begin:

Do you believe the evidence evinced by climate scientists that over many decades the global temperature has been, and still is increasing significantly?

Do you believe their evidence that this is due to the accumulation of greenhouse gases that trap heat near the earth’s surface?

Do you believe that human activity has been responsible for the scientifically-documented large increase in one of the greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, and that it has played a dominant role in global warming, as documented in 99.8% of around 14,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers on the subject over the past two decades?

Do you accept climate scientists’ evidence that unless the increase in global temperature is held to 2 degrees C, serious changes to climate will occur?

Do you accept the scientists’ evidence of the disastrous effects on climate, arable land, forests, oceans, coastal habitation, wildlife, human existence and social cohesion of still higher increases?

Do you accept the scientist’s evidence that the increasing number of extreme adverse weather events we are now experiencing: widespread bushfires and now tornados, record rain and flooding in Eastern Australia, are likely a manifestation of global warming, and that these will increase as global temperatures rise?

Where were you when Warren Truss made his grossly erroneous statements about the bushfires? Where was Greg Hunt?

What do you make of reports on global warming from the Federal Government Climate Commission, from Professor David Karoly, Professor of Meteorology and an ARC Federation Fellow in the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne, and from Bureau of Meteorology scientists: Neil Plummer et al writing in The Conversation?

How will you answer George Monbiot’s question in his January article in The Guardian: Heatwave: Australia's new weather demands a new politics: ”I wonder what Tony Abbott will say about the record heat-wave now ravaging his country?”

Unless Abbott’s answers to these questions are affirmative, there is not much point in proceeding, as logically no action would be necessary. But as he has what is styled a Direct Action Plan to counter carbon emissions, can we presume his answers would be at least tentatively positive? Unless of course his Plan is simply an empty charade devised by a skeptic wanting to give the impression he is prepared to do something about climate change. Let’s give him the benefit of any doubt people may justifiably harbour.

He has pledged to repeal the carbon tax from the moment he is elected, should that happen. The Liberal website elaborately describes the steps in The Coalition's Plan to Abolish the Carbon Tax, even to the extent of a double dissolution of parliament, if he doesn’t get his way. His determined approach leads to the next questions:

As placing a price on carbon pollution is designed to penalize emitters and thereby reduce emissions, and also to encourage the use of renewable energy sources, and as the evidence is mounting that this is already occurring even in the seven months of the carbon tax (lower power usage and lower coal-generated power), do you believe that this trend towards lower emissions would continue after abolishing the carbon tax?

If the evidence is that abolishing the carbon tax will result in higher carbon pollution, how could you justify increasing pollution by this action?

Since part of the Coalition’s plan is that: “On day one, the Environment Minister will instruct the Department to commence the implementation of the Coalition’s Direct Action Plan on climate change and carbon emissions.”, you may care to address some questions about your DAP, questions that the media seldom ask you to answer.

Since very few economists, and almost no environmentalists give your DAP any credence, how can you present it as a credible alternative to the Government’s carbon pricing arrangement which will lead to an emissions trading scheme that will operate in a world trading market?

What evidence do you have that paying polluters with taxpayer’s money to reduce their pollution will be more effective than penalizing them for their pollution as the carbon tax does? How can you know that your ‘carrot’ will be more effective than the ‘stick’?

Is it your intention, as Malcolm Turnbull has suggested, to present your DAP as an alternative that can easily be scrapped as its implementation turns out to be unfeasible? Did you engage climate skeptics Maurice Newman as business adviser, and Dick Warburton as carbon emissions adviser, to enable you to do this?

These are fundamental questions to which the electorate needs answers before it votes later this year. It needs to know whether to vote for the Labor scheme about which it knows, or for the Coalition’s DAP, which on the face of it looks like a Mickey Mouse scheme, although the cost is said to be $10.5 billion, the source of which has not been revealed.

As its centerpiece is the planting of some 20 millions trees to act as carbon sinks, please explain to us some of the details:

From where will the trees be sourced? What sort of trees?

How large an area will be needed to plant them?

As you have stated that semi-arable land would be used, since all the existing arable land is needed for farming food and fibre, where will you find the large amount of land you will need?

How will the trees be planted – can we presume your Green Army would do this?

How will you enlist the 15,000 members you say will comprise your Green Army?

How will you transport them to semi-arable locations, house them, and provision them?

How much will all this cost?

Has provision been made for this cost in your budget? Over what period?

Who will be the employer and provide occupational health and safety, benefits and insurance? How will the logistics of such a vast operation be managed?

Since you have heralded the abolition of the climate change department, what government department will oversee and administer the DAP?

How long will it take to plant 20 million trees?

Once planted, how will the trees be watered and nurtured until growth is well established in their semi-arable locations? At what ongoing cost?

How will you protect this vast forest against the destructive forces of bushfires, the devastation of which is contemporaneously apparent to us all?

Do you accept the scientific opinion that it will take around five years before trees can become worthwhile carbon sinks?

Under your DAP, what happens about reducing carbon pollution in the meantime?

As your Plan also involves sequestering carbon in soil in the form of biochar, how and where will char be produced, transported and buried in agricultural environments? At what cost?

What evidence do you have that this will be cost-effective, and that it will enhance the land? How long will it take to show a benefit?

You have been vehemently critical of the economic effects of placing a price on carbon, predicting that the costs of everything would go up and up and up, and that jobs, industries, and whole townships would be decimated. This leads to the next questions:

Is it true that every household would bear a cost of $1300 for your DAP, and receive no compensation, such as is in place right now?

If so, how can you justify this household cost of $1300, while criticizing the Government’s carbon price, for which most households are fully compensated?

Have you work-shopped how you will remove existing compensation from pensioners and families, as promised, and manage the disruption and resentment that move will inevitably precipitate?

Have you modeled the economic effects of the $1300 imposition?

While businessmen and industry leaders always wish for lower taxes, their yearning for certainty is very strong.

Have you work-shopped how they might react when over a year after the introduction of a price on carbon, during which they have taken action to reduce pollution and thereby the penalty they need to pay, and having invested in renewables, they find that they have to adjust to a new arrangement where there is no carbon price?

Have you considered the possibility that they may resent having to again adjust their plans?

Have you considered that having adjusted to a price on carbon they may be in harmony with its purpose, and not wish to go backwards?

Have you considered the possibility of a business backlash against your plans?

How do you explain the rapidly diminishing number of complaints to the ACCC about the carbon tax, now down to almost zero?

Forty-nine questions. Until the voters have answers to them, how can they compare what Abbott and the Coalition are offering to counter the existential threat of escalating global warming and all the consequences it will bring in its wake if it is not restricted to 2 degrees C, and the disastrous effects of greater increases?

Come on Mr Abbott, answer these pivotal questions – take us into the recesses of your mind where your thoughts about global warming swirl around.

Come on you journalists in the mainstream media – ask Mr Abbott these questions, and insist on cogent answers. Don’t avoid the questions, and don’t accept bland answers, obfuscation, devious answers, or weasel words? Don’t allow him to walk away when the questions get too hard. Do your job. He will not spontaneously give the electorate his answers; it is up to you to wheedle them out of him. So far, you have failed dismally. You have let us down disgracefully. Lift your game.

The Fourth Estate needs to take up the global warming cudgels, and if it continues to turn a blind eye, the Fifth Estate needs to shame it into action.

What do you think?

If you decide to disseminate this post by activating the ‘Disseminate this post’ option in the shaded panel at the foot or top of this piece, it will be sent to the following pre-selected Federal parliamentarians, in alphabetical order: Tony Abbott, Adam Bandt, Greg Combet, Julia Gillard, Greg Hunt, Barnaby Joyce, Christine Milne, Robert Oakeshott, Warren Truss, Malcolm Turnbull, and Tony Windsor. If you have selected your local member, he or she will get a copy of the email.

TPS M@IL: a new communication tool

How many times have you wished you could email a politician or a journalist, or forward to them a piece posted on The Political Sword, but found it too difficult because you didn’t have the correct email address, or perhaps didn’t know who it might be best to contact? Over the end-of-year break, our Webmaster, Web Monkey, and I have been creating TPS M@IL. He has developed the design and the backend code to support the system, and has added several innovative features to what was originally intended to be a simple facility to enable you to send emails to politicians and journalists from your own email system.

TPS M@IL works differently from the usual mail applications as it uses your OWN email system to do the heavy lifting. Why you may ask? Well, firstly mailing politicians and their staff is a serious matter and we don't wish to provide a mechanism to spam them. So any email you wish to send will be guaranteed to be your OWN and not from our email system, or from our server's IP address. While TPS M@IL is a safe and convenient way of contacting politicians and journalists, it provides no link to The Political Sword so that spammers can't cause us to be blacklisted.

Let's elaborate.

TPS M@IL was initially designed to make it easy for you to quickly find the email addresses you want by selecting them from a database of Federal politicians or political journalists. But Web Monkey has added a feature you will find handy – a series of custom lists already compiled for you. For example, if the subject of your communication is Federal finance, instead of you having to recall the names of politicians whose portfolio responsibilities lie within finance, they have already been identified in the first of the eighteen portfolio lists that are available for your selection. To prepare your email, you would simply select ‘Finance spokespersons’, and the email addresses of the relevant politicians from all sides of Federal politics would be automatically loaded into the ‘To’ line in YOUR OWN email system. All you then have to do is type in your message, ‘sign’ it, and send it. More of this later.

The Political Sword – now established as a hub for the Fifth Estate – is already influencing opinion in the arena of Federal politics. To extend that influence, Web Monkey has added a further feature to TPS M@IL to enable you to bring pieces on The Political Sword, and the comments it evoked, directly to the attention of politicians and journalists. Let us explain these features in more detail.

TPS M@IL explained

First, to enable TPS M@IL, click the title of the piece.

When you use TPS M@IL, you will find two facilities:
- one that enables you to disseminate pieces that are posted on The Political Sword,
- and another that enables you to create your own email to politicians or journalists.

From now on, at the top and foot of each new piece on TPS, you will find a shaded panel with four TPS M@IL options: Disseminate this post; Create your own email; FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions); and Identify local member.

Go first to the last option: Identify local member which enables you to select your current representative in the Federal House of Representatives. You should use this option on your initial use of TPS M@IL. You will not need to return to this option.

When you click: ‘Identify local member’, a window displaying a database will appear, from which you can select your local member. The index at the foot of the table guides you to the page (1-17) where your member is situated. Find your member, then click ‘Select’ and the name of your local member will appear near the top of the window. If you make a mistake, simply select the correct name. Subsequently, any email you send will include your local member's email address copied into your Cc: line. If you don’t wish this to be so, do not select your local member. 

The first option in the shaded panel: Disseminate this post enables you to send the title and URL of the current post to pre-selected politicians and political journalists. The author of the piece on TPS will select the recipients depending on the subject of the post. In all instances, the Prime Minister, the Opposition Leader, and the Greens Leader will be included, and for example if the subject was finance, the recipients would also include Wayne Swan, Penny Wong, David Bradbury, Bernie Ripoll and Bill Shorten for the Government; Joe Hockey, Andrew Robb, Mathias Cormann, Tony Smith and Arthur Sinodinos for the Coalition; Adam Bandt for the Greens; and some Independents.

The author will also create some text for your email message.

When you click: ‘Disseminate this post YOUR email system will open with all the pre-selected email addresses in your email’s ‘To’ line, the subject matter in the ‘Subject’ line, and some explanatory text in the body of the email. All you have to do is ‘sign’ the email, and ‘send’ it.

We trust this will make the dissemination of posts on TPS to selected politicians and journalists very quick and easy. We invite you to use it.

The second option in the shaded panel: ‘Create your own email’ enables you to send an email to selected politicians or journalists.

When you click: ‘Create your own email’, drop down text appears. The first line gives you the opportunity to learn a little more about TPS M@IL when you click: ‘click here to read about TPS M@IL…’

Under that, you will find a series of headings:
Ad Astra’s custom lists,
Email a politician,
Email a journalist, and
Create your own mixed list.

Ad Astra’s custom lists
This feature is designed to make it easy for you to select a group of politicians to whom you may wish you send an email.

The list begins:
Top ALP heavyweights
Top Coalition heavyweights
Power brokers in the parliament
The country’s top political journalists
People of influence in the media

After that, there are eighteen portfolio lists where those involved in these portfolios have already been selected. They are drawn from the three major parties and the Independents. An example of one portfolio area: ‘Finance spokespersons’ has been given above.

For each of the options listed there is a ‘load/modify’ link that enables you to load into your email system the email addresses that have been pre-selected. The names of those that have been pre-selected are displayed near the top of the window in alphabetical order. You can modify that list by adding to it or deleting from it, using the Add and Delete options on the right side of the window. If you add, the name added will be displayed near the top of the window in red and the name will appear in the list in alphabetical order; if you delete, 'Name removed from the list' will appear in red, and you will see that the name has been removed from the list.

Email a politician
The first heading here is: Email individual politicians. If you need help, click ‘Click here for help’.

Under that is ‘Click here to create a politician list’. When you do, a window appears that displays a database of Federal politicians from which you can select as many as you wish. As you do so, each newly selected name will appear in red near the top of the window indicating it has been added, and under that you will see the name has been added to the list you are compiling, which is in alphabetical order.

When your list is complete, click ‘click here to send your email’, and the email addresses will be added to the address line of YOUR EMAIL system. All you have to do then is to type in your message, ‘sign’ it and ‘send’ it. The recipients will see that the email has come from YOU through your email system, NOT from The Political Sword.

The next heading is: Email a Party. Under that you can select ‘All Parties’ or an individual Party, and you can then filter your selection by selecting ‘All States’ or an individual State.

Do realize though that a character limit is imposed. This is a browser based limitation and not that of TPS M@IL. Thus you may not be able to email all parties in all states at the one time.  A notice in red will appear if you have exceeded the character limit, with instructions about how to proceed.

When you have made your selection, you click the ‘Submit’ button, whereupon ‘Click here to open your email appears in red. Click this, and the email addresses of your selection will be loaded into YOUR email system, ready for you to add your message, your signature and ‘send’.

Email a journalist
Under that heading is: ‘Click here to create a journalist list’. When you do, a window appears that displays a database of political journalists from which you can select as many as you wish. The list is limited at present, because it is quite difficult to ascertain journalists’ email addresses. Please let us have any that are not on the list and we will add them in.

In the same way that applies to selecting individual politicians, as you select journalists, the newly added one will be displayed near the top of the window, and the name will be added to the list you are creating. Once you have finalised your list, click ‘click here to send your email’ and the email addresses will be added to the address line of YOUR email system. All you have to do then is to type in your message, ‘sign’ it and ‘send’ it. As with emails to politicians, the journalist recipients will see that the email has come from YOU through your email system, NOT from The Political Sword.

Create your own mixed list
This option enables you to create your own mixed list of politicians and journalists, and any other category we might add later. This option works the same as if you were selecting just politicians or just journalists.

When you click: ‘Click here to create your own mixed list’, a window appears that displays a database of both politicians and political journalists from which you can select. You can identify which is which: all politicians have 'gov' in their email address. Once selected, click ‘click here to send your email’, and proceed as described above with the individual politicians’ and journalists’ lists.

The third option in the shaded panel: Frequently Asked Questions takes you to a page where FAQ’s are addressed and answered.

We trust that you will find the system that we have designed easy to understand and easy to use, and that, with just a few simple mouse clicks, it enables you to make your voice more easily heard by those in power, and those who contribute in the media.  We feel you will find Ad Astra's lists particularly useful.  If you have a list of your own that you feel would be a useful addition, please send it to us.

We will welcome any feedback you can give us on the use of the system. Please let us know of any problems you encounter, any confusion you might experience, and of course any ways in which we might improve TPS M@IL.

We hope you enjoy the experience of using TPS M@IL. The previous piece The Gillard-Abbott gap widens is offered to enable you to try out TPS M@IL and in particular the Disseminate this post option. You may also use it to send an email to one or more politicians or journalists. Click the above link to go to the piece to see how TPS M@IL works.

Web Monkey and Ad Astra

The Gillard-Abbott gap widens

For Labor supporters, 2013 holds great promise. An election is scheduled for later in the year, when Julia Gillard will ask the people of Australia to elect her Government for another term. The alternative is an Abbott-led Coalition Government.

The year has started well for the PM.

She has announced terms of reference for the Royal Commission on Child Sexual Abuse, appointed the Commissioners, and set the timetable for reporting. It has been widely acclaimed.

She has also reaffirmed her passion for implementing the Gonski Report, and initiating the NDIS in 2013. Her ‘message to Australia’ printed in the Herald Sun, shows her commitment to an Australia that is both strong and fair, but also smart, one built on a great education for all. Her message, one written from the heart, is inspiring.

I wonder how Tony Abbott’s message to Australia would read. If the recent promise on the Liberal website: Our plan to abolish the Carbon Tax is any guide, it would include a recital of how he would destroy Labor’s carbon pricing scheme before it could morph into an emissions trading scheme in 2015, how he will abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and how he would implement his Direct Action Plan, one he still has to explain to the people. He might mention how he will ‘demolish’ the NBN, although his ability to do that, or for that matter abolish the ‘carbon tax’, is questionable. No doubt an Abbott message to Australia would reflect his usual negative approach that seeks to destroy what Labor has worked so hard to achieve.

After a brief holiday with her recently widowed mother, PM Gillard return to Kirribilli to host a reception for victims of child abuse, one that showed her empathy with them and her determination to see them receive a hearing and justice. The media gave the event good coverage.  She has since visited fire-ravaged areas in Tasmania and New South Wales.

Tony Abbott said he was carrying out firefighting duties, well publicised in the media.

I suppose the letup in media items adverse to the PM and her Government is attributable to the end-of-year break and holiday time for journalists who specialise in such writing. But it was surprising to read Sid Maher’s article in The Australian on 7 January nominating Julia Gillard for the newspaper's 'Australian of the Year'. It began: ”If any politician has shown resilience, endurance and determination in the face of adversity it is Julia Gillard. Ms Gillard starts the year as the nation's preferred prime minister ahead of Tony Abbott despite a year of political turmoil in which she soundly defeated a leadership challenge from Kevin Rudd and faced down a concerted opposition attack on the carbon tax.” It ended with a reiteration: ”Her resilience, endurance and determination in the face of adversity make her a worthy nominee for this newspaper's Australian of the Year.” Of course, she may not be nominated. We remember how Kevin Rudd was successfully selected a few years back, accompanied by a flattering photo of him against the background of his library shelves, only to be pilloried by that newspaper thereafter.

Will Tony Abbott be on the list of nominees to be judged ”by a panel of senior editors and the winner announced on January 19 in The Weekend Australian.”? What will he and his supporters feel if he is not on the list?

While individual polls of voting intention have no value in predicting election outcomes this far from an election, the accompanying questions do give some insight into the opinions of those polled on a variety of topics, on the relative popularity of the leaders, and the how voters regard their political attributes. This Monday’s Essential Report, shows that in the four months since September 2012, Julia Gillard has improved her ratings on virtually all the positive attributes, some by a substantial margin, and she has rated lower on nearly all the negative.

As Essential says: ”Gillard’s key attributes were hard-working (72%), intelligent (72%), out of touch with ordinary people (53%), a capable leader (50%) and good in a crisis (50%). Almost all positive leader attributes for Gillard moved up from the last time the question was polled in September 2012. The biggest shifts on the positive attributes were on a capable leader (+7%) and good in a crisis (+7%).”

Tony Abbott too has improved his ratings a little on the positive attributes, but has slipped on the negative attributes. As Essential puts it: “Abbott’s key attributes were hard-working (70%), intelligent (64%), arrogant (61%), narrow-minded (56%), aggressive (55%) and out of touch with ordinary people (54%).

But it is the comparison of the leaders that is most revealing.

Julia Gillard rates higher than Tony Abbott in almost all positive attributes, some by a considerable margin, and lower than him in negative attributes, again by a considerable margin. The Essential Report reads: ”Compared to Tony Abbott, Julia Gillard is seen as more likely to be considered good in a crisis (+11%), intelligent (+8%) and a capable leader (+7%). Abbott is regarded by significantly more respondents to be arrogant (+14%), narrow minded (+11%), intolerant (+12%) and erratic (+11%).”

That just about sums it up, and explains to some extent the difference in the leaders’ popularity.

This week’s Newspoll, reported here and here, shows little movement in popularity. Julia Gillard has a satisfaction rating of 38 (up two) and a dissatisfaction rating of 49 (down three) giving a net rating of minus 11, while Tony Abbott's ratings were 29 (up one) and 58 (down one) giving a net rating of minus 29. That speaks for itself.

In the preferred PM stakes, Julia Gillard gained two percentage points against Tony Abbott as preferred prime minister and now leads by 12 points: 45 to 33 per cent.

The gap between PM Gillard and Opposition Leader Abbott is wide, and widening. The gap reflects what the electorate sees as the growing difference between the nation’s alternative leaders.

Labor supporters will be encouraged by the six point rise in Labor’s primary vote to 38% in Newspoll, way above its dismal depths last year, and the fall by two points in the Coalition’s primary vote to 44%, giving a TPP of 51/49. While we should avoid any feelings that this result is predictive, it is certainly more reassuring than a movement the other way. What is of some predictive value is the trend of recent polls, which both pollsters and analysts agree is moving in Labor’s favour. Possum Comitatus’ Pollytrend shows this clearly even before being updated by the latest Newspoll, and Andrew Catsaras’ Poll of Polls will show it when Insiders resumes. These trends point in a positive predictive way for Labor.

So while the gap is steadily widening between how the electorate regards PM Gillard and Opposition Leader Abbott, in Julia Gillard’s favour, the gap between the TPP of the two major parties shows a steady narrowing trend.

All this is good news for Julia Gillard and her Government as they approach the predicted tumult that will surely characterise the election year as Tony Abbott bares his teeth and shows again all his destructiveness, as he pulls out all the negative stops, as he engages in hand-to-hand, bare-knuckle combat, as he tries to land the killer blow that will flatten his opponent on the canvas bruised, bloodied and defeated and entitle him to raise his hand triumphantly and claim the prize he has always believed should have been his from the beginning.

The gap between Tony Abbott’s pipe dream, and the reality he now faces in a resurgent Julia Gillard, is wide and widening. It may never close.

What do you think?

This piece is posted to give TPS users a chance to try out the features of TPS Mail, which will be launched later in the weekend.

Thank you to all who comment here

Lyn, in addition to providing links every weekday and Twitterverse and Twitterati regularly, has kept an account of the pseudonyms of those who have commented on The Political Sword since its inception in 2008.

While our statistics tell us that a large number visit here but never leave a comment, there are regulars who frequently leave comments and many who comment occasionally. To these folk we have a deep sense of gratitude. You, who comment here, make this site what it has become, a site where informed, intelligent contributions are made to the debate on the existing thread, and also on a host of items related to politics here and overseas. You also leave links to valuable material from a variety of sources that keep TPS users informed and up-to-date. Lyn’s Links and your contributions have made The Political Sword a hub for the Fifth Estate. From here, users branch out from the hub to a huge range of resources all around the globe.

The purpose of this short piece is to say, on this, the last day of 2012, thank you for all you have contributed to The Political Sword over the years, and to invite you to redouble your contributions as we move into 2013.

Next year the nation will have to decide whether it wants the Gillard Government to continue for another term, or whether it wants to hand the reins of power to Tony Abbott and the Coalition that he leads. There could scarcely be a starker contrast for the electorate to consider. Those who cynically repeat catchphrases that all politicians are the same and parties likewise, show their appalling ignorance of politics here, and a dangerous lack of understanding of the fundamental difference between progressive parties and conservatives the world over. While this difference is most grossly demonstrated in US politics, it is replicated here. So stark is the contrast that reconciliation is not possible, especially with the conservative leadership that exists in this country.

We who endorse the thrust of The Political Sword, which clearly supports the return of the Gillard Government and is opposed to the installation of a Coalition government led by the most negative, conservative, policy light, destructive, pugilistic politician in living memory, have the task of advocating for that end. There are powerful forces in the Fourth Estate who believe that their ideological and commercial interests will be served best by a Coalition government, forces which will be pitted against the Gillard Government, and which will use all the power and influence they can to bring it down, and install the Coalition.

All that you have to offer will be needed throughout the entire Fifth Estate, and here on The Political Sword, to counter the adversarial forces of the Fourth Estate. We need your help.

Here is Lyn’s list of contributors, over four hundred, in most instances along with the date of first contributing, which we present with our heartfelt thanks for all you have done for The Political Sword over the years.


A BOOR’S BOAR 9/10/2011
ADAM 14/2/2011
ALCYONE 1/11/2012
ANDY 13/5/2012
ANDREW SMITH 21/2/2011
AMY RORKE 24/8/2011
ANNIE THROPE 14/3/2011
ANDREW () 1/11/2012
ANGYBEE 29/10/2012
ANN 18/6/2010
AUSDAVO 13/9/2012
AUSTIN 3:6 9/7/2012

BACCHUS 20/7/2012
BARRY KAYDE 5/4/2012
BARRY TUCKER 26/10/2012 - OWN BLOG truthinmediaresourcecentre
BEN 20/5/2012
BEN JANAAM 9/01/2012
BEN MCINTYRE 23/10/2010
BENNYG 12/5/2012
BIG SMOKE 28/12/2012
BILLIE 19/02/2012
BOB MACALBA 24/11/2012
BOBALOT 22/8/2010
BUBBA RAY 25/6/2010
BSA BOB 4/1/2011

CJM 30/7/2011
CASABLANCA 25/8/2010

CATEY 8/9/2011
CATCHING UP 12/11/2010
CHRIS BLAIR 6/4/2012
CHRIS T 8/5/2012
CHRIS 29/10/2012
CHRISTINE H 26/9/2012
CHRISTOL 27/02/2012
CLARKIE 27/4/2011
COSMAN 16/5/2011
CROWEY 16/4/2011
CUPPA 24/10/2011

DD 29/6/2011
DAFID 23/4/2012
DALESMAN 6/6/2012
DAN 6/6/2012
DANNY LEWIS 27/3/2012
DARRENC 27/3/2012
DAMIEN 29/11/2010
DAVID LEWIS 6/9/2011
DONG 20/8/2010

EASYGOING777 2/2/2011
ECTRA 25/8/2011
EDDIE 22/7/2012
EDDY L 20/6/2010
EL GORDO 6/9/2011
ERIC 16/11/2011
ERIN 11/9/2012
EVE WHITE 17/3/2011

FIONA 20/02/2012
FIZ 6/6/2011
FLUFFULA 14/3/2011
FRANC 13/5/2012
FRANCO 31/01/2012
FRANK 24/8/2012
FRANKED 12/6/2012

GAFFHOOK 17/5/2010
GARY 7/9/2010
GARY M 18/4/2012
GILLIAN 30/7/2012
GK 14/7/2012
GEORGE PIKE 14/7/2010
GLENNIS 6/5/2012
GLORFINDEL 29/6/2010
GRAMPS 27/8/2012
GRANNIE 26/02/2012
GRAVEL 21/5/2010
GREG 6/6/2011
GUN 25/01/2012

HADERAK 28/6/2012
HAMBO 29/8/2010
HOLLYWOOD 21/6/2010


JAEGER 30/7/2010
JANE 30/1/2011
JANET 11/8/2012 JAN @ J4GYPSY
JARA 28/8/2011
JASON 7/5/2010
JAYCEE 12/5/2012
JEAN 6/9/2011
JENNY 17/3/2011
JESS 24/7/2010 - OWN BLOG
JIMBO 3/6/2010
JOA 2/4/2012
JOE 2 8/6/2010
JOE HOMER 24/02/2012
JOHN J 25/10/2010
JOHN L 13/02/2012 TPS AUTHOR
JJ 30/7/2010

KAREN 14/5/2012
KATE 5/7/2011
KEITH D 31/3/2012
KEN 17/3/2011
KHTAGH 22/7/2012

LADY IN RED 4/5/2012
LAURA 10/4/2012
LAWRIE JAY 3/9/2012
LEFTY 20/11/2010
LESLEY DE VOIL 13/9/2012
LEONE BRITT 28/11/2011
LIBERTY JACK 22/3/2011
LIBBY X 33 20/7/2012
LITTLE JAN 28/4/2011
LINDA 12/5/2012
LOL 23/112012
LT FRED 24/8/2012
LUKE 8/5/2012
LYNE LADY 26/02/2012
LYNCHPIN 18/6/2010

MAC 4/9/2012
MACONDO 11/8/2012
MANDY MACK 20/02/2012
MAGROVE JACK 13/5/2012
MARILYN 6/9/2011
MARIAN RUMENS 10/02/2012
MARK HYDE 20/4/2012
MARK LEAHY 24/8/2011
MARKAT 24/11/2012
MARKS 26/9/2011
MARTYN TONKS 31/5/2012
MARY 10/7/2012
MEGPIE 71 15/7/2012
MEL 20/02/2012
MERCURIAL 15/9/2012
MERLIN 9/9/2011
MICHAEL Z 23/6/211
MICK 23/7/2011
MICHELLE 8/9/2010
MIGLO 17/5/2010
MICK OF KAMBAH 27/10/2010
MIKEY 26/9/2011
MIN 16/6/2010
MWS 10/7/2012

NASKING 17/5/2010
NATURE 5 25/5/2010
NELLIE MAY 13/9/2012
NEO THE FAT CAT 6/6/2012
NITE LITE 11/4/2012
NORMAL 29/6/2010
NORMAN K 30/5/2010
NOTUS 18/10/2011
NUDIE FISH 24/6/2012

OZ FROG 25/6/2010
OZYMAN 19/9/2011

PADDYBTS 19/02/2012
PAT 5/9/2011
PAUL WALTER 16/6/2011
PAUL WELLO 19/7/2012
PB 15/10/2012
PER ARDUA 30/1/2011
PETER P 11/7/2012
PIKIRANKU 1/6/2012
PILGRIM 10/10/2012
PJ 14/10/ 2012
PJF 25/5/2012
PHIL 13/8/2012
POLYQUATS 22/8/2010
PSYCLAW 29/6/2011
PUFF TMD 19/4/2012

QIER 25/9/2010
QZQ 2/7/2012

RAJA CUHE 15/9/2011
RHIANNON 27/6/2011
RHYTHYMZ 5/5/2012
RGBRG 16/7/2012
RENAE 15/5/2011
RN 30/7/2010
ROB 2/7/2012
ROCK 3/9/2012
ROGER 16/3/2011
ROBYN EVANS 13/5/2012
ROBYNNE 15/10/2012
ROCCO 4/3/2012
ROD BOULTON 29/6/2011
ROSWELL 29/6/2010
ROWAN 20/8/2010

SALLY 22/5/2010
SANCHEZ 19/7/2012
SANDRA 13/5/2012
SANDY 27/6/2010
SAM 26/6/2010
SAPPERK9 15/02/2012
SCOTT 3/10/2011
SENEXX 4/6/2010 - OWN BLOG
SHANE 20/02/2012
SHAUN 28/8/2011
SHIRLEY 10/4/2012
SIMON 29/6/2010
SMITHE 14/7/2012
SPROCKET 3/3/2012
STEVE 777 24/8/2012
STEVE 9/5/2011
SUE 9/5/2011
SUE 2 20/9/2011
SUZYQ 2/4/2012

TAO DE HAAS 26/10/2012
TEDDY SEA 1/12/2012
TIFFANY232 5/3/2011
TIM BADRICK 21/6/2011
TIN CAN 14/5/2012
TCEPSER 21/6/2010
THE MOOR 14/6/2012
THEODRIC 15/5/2010
TODD 27/9/2012
THORNEY 15/5/2010
TONY S 27/4/2011
TREDLGT 21/8/2010
TREVOR 11/8/2011
TRUTH SEEKER 29/6/2012
TYLER 11/5/2012
TYPECAST 12/2/2011

URIAH 10/9/2012

VAL 2/3/2012
VALERIE 29/7/2010

WAKE UP 8/6/2012
WAYNE 15/9/2011
WEE WILLY 23/8/2011
WHAT IS MORE 26/8/2012
WOODPEAR 6/12/2012

XIAOECHO 13/8/2012


ZAC SPITZER 14/10/2012

42 LONG 13/5/2012
2353 10/8/2010

Focus on crap detecting: Postman and Weingartner

This is the third in the end-of-year series that have focussed on aspects of politics. This one uses Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner’s brilliant 1969 paperback Teaching as a Subversive Activity as the framework for this piece. I found this book facilitated more insights into the purposes of education that most of the formal texts on education. I was disappointed when I lost my copy some years ago, but delighted recently when I found a PDF version published online by Oregon State University.

The title of the first chapter was ‘Crap Detecting’, which although written in the context of the educational process, has significant implications for the political process. This piece gathers together parts of this chapter, in italics, which I annotate with comments, in bold, that relate Postman and Weingartner’s words to contemporary politics. Any bolding of the original text is mine.

The ‘Crap Detecting’ chapter begins:

“'In 1492, Columbus discovered America....' Starting from this disputed fact, each one of us will describe the history of this country in a somewhat different way. Nonetheless, it is reasonable to assume that most of us would include something about what is called the 'democratic process', and how Americans have valued it, or at least have said they valued it. Therein lies a problem: one of the tenets of a democratic society is that men be allowed to think and express themselves freely on any subject, even to the point of speaking out against the idea of a democratic society. To the extent that our schools are instruments of such a society, they must develop in the young not only an awareness of this freedom but a will to exercise it, and the intellectual power and perspective to do so effectively. This is necessary so that the society may continue to change and modify itself to meet unforeseen threats, problems and opportunities. Thus, we can achieve what John Gardner calls an, 'ever-renewing society'.

"So goes the theory." 

While facts are important, the most important role of schools must be to inculcate the ability to reason, to challenge ‘conventional wisdom’, to exercise freedom of thought and action. The strong emphasis the Government is giving to education as the foundation for a strong economy, a just society, and a vibrant democracy, is not just laudable, it is essential.

"In practice, we mostly get a different story. In our society as in others, we find that there are influential men at the head of important institutions who cannot afford to be found wrong, who find change inconvenient, perhaps intolerable, and who have financial or political interests they must conserve at any cost. Such men are, therefore, threatened in many respects by the theory of the democratic process and the concept of an ever-renewing society. Moreover, we find that their are obscure men who do not head important institutions who are similarly threatened because they have identified themselves with certain ideas and institutions which they wish to keep free from either criticism or change."

This is what Stiglitz says in his 2012 book The Price of Inequality. Postman and Weingartner were saying it over four decades ago, in 1969. Moreover, we see contemporaneously how some have become so wedded to certain ideas, such as global warming being a hoax, that they are threatened by anything that contradicts their beliefs. Just last week we saw them cherry-pick parts of the latest IPCC report to support their beliefs.

"Such men as these would much prefer that the schools do little or nothing to encourage youth to question, doubt, or challenge any part of the society in which they live, especially those parts which are most vulnerable. 'After all,' say the practical men, 'they are our schools, and they ought to promote our interests, and that is part of the democratic process, too’. True enough; and then we have a serious point of conflict. Whose schools are they, anyway, and whose interests should they be designed to serve? We realize that these are questions about which any self-respecting professor of education could write several books each one beginning with a reminder that the problem is not black or white, either/or, yes or no. But you will not expect us to be either professorial or prudent. We are, after all, trying to suggest strategies for survival as they may be developed in our schools, and the situation requires emphatic responses. We believe that the schools must serve as the principal medium for developing in youth the attitudes and skills of social, political and cultural criticism. No. That is not emphatic enough. Try this: in the early 1960s, an interviewer was trying to get Ernest Hemingway to identify the characteristics required for a person to be a 'great writer'. As the interviewer offered a list of various possibilities, Hemingway disparaged each in sequence. Finally, frustrated, the interviewer asked, 'Isn't there any one essential ingredient that you can identify?' Hemingway replied, ‘Yes, there is. In order to be a great writer a person must have a built-in, shockproof crap detector.'

"It seems to us that, in his response, Hemingway identified an essential survival strategy and the essential function of the schools in today's world. One way of looking at the history of the human group is that it has been a continuing struggle against the veneration of 'crap'. Our intellectual history is a chronicle of the anguish and suffering of men who tried to help their contemporaries see that some part of their fondest beliefs were misconceptions, faulty assumptions, superstitions and even outright lies. The mileposts along the road of our intellectual development signal those points at which some person developed a new perspective, a new meaning, or a new metaphor. We have in mind a new education that would set out to cultivate just such people - experts at 'crap detecting'."

Here is the nub of the problem we as a nation need to resolve now. Although it has always been so in Australian politics, how many would disagree that these last two years have been beset with an unprecedented avalanche of political crap, whether it is about global warming and the effect of a price on carbon, about the economy, about the Government’s stewardship of it especially through the GFC, about the HIP and the BER, about the best way forward in health and education? And almost all of it has come from the Coalition and its leadership, and faithfully echoed by the much of mainstream media. If ever we needed ‘a built-in, shockproof crap detector’, we have needed it since 2010. All but the rusted-on have installed a crap detector, and as a sad result, many are turning away from political discourse. It is in our schools that crap detecting needs to be taught and learned.

Back to Postman and Weingartner: "There are many ways of describing this function of the schools, and many men who have. David Riesman, for example, calls this the 'counter-cyclical' approach to education, meaning that schools should stress values that are not stressed by other major institutions in the culture. Norbert Wiener insisted that the schools now must function as 'anti-entropic feedback systems', 'entropy' being the word used to denote a general and unmistakable tendency of all systems - natural and man-made - in the universe to 'run down', to reduce to chaos and uselessness. This is a process that cannot be reversed but that can be slowed down and partly controlled. One way to control it is through 'maintenance'. This is Eric Hoffer's dream, and he believes that the quality of maintenance is one of the best indices of the quality of life in a culture. But Wiener uses a different metaphor to get at the same idea. He says that in order for them to be an anti-entropic force, we must have adequate feedback. In other words, we must have instruments to tell us when we are running down, when maintenance is required. For Wiener, such instruments would be people who have been educated to recognize change, to be sensitive to problems caused by change, and who have the motivation and courage to sound alarms when entropy accelerates to a dangerous degree. This is what we mean by 'crap detecting'. It is also what John Gardner means by the 'ever-renewing society', and what Kenneth Boulding means by 'social self-consciousness'. We are talking about the schools cultivating in the young that most 'subversive' intellectual instrument - the anthropological perspective. This perspective allows one to be part of his own culture and, at the same time, to be out of it. One views the activities of his own group as would an anthropologist, observing its tribal rivals its fears, its conceits, its ethnocentrism. In this way, one is able to recognize when reality begins to drift too far away from the grasp of the tribe.

"We need hardly say that achieving such a perspective is extremely difficult, requiring, among other things, considerable courage. We are, after all, talking about achieving a high degree of freedom from the intellectual and social constraints of one's tribe. For example, it is generally assumed that people of other tribes have been victimized by indoctrination from which our tribe has remained free. Our own outlook seems 'natural' to us, and we wonder that other men can perversely persist in believing nonsense. Yet, it is undoubtedly true that, for most people, the acceptance of a particular doctrine is largely attributable to the accident of birth. They might be said to be 'ideologically inter-changeable', which means that they would have accepted any set of doctrines that happened to be valued by the tribe to which they were born. Each of us whether from the American tribe, Russian tribe, or Hopi tribe, is born into a symbolic environment as well as a physical one. We become accustomed very early to a 'natural' way of talking, and being talked to, about 'truth'. Quite arbitrarily, one's perception of what is 'true' or real is shaped by the symbols and symbol-manipulating institutions of his tribe. Most men, in time, learn to respond with favour and obedience to a set of verbal abstractions which they feel provides them with an ideological identity. One word for this, of course, is 'prejudice'. None of us is free of it, but it is the sign of a competent 'crap detector' that he is not completely captivated by the arbitrary abstractions of the community in which he happened to grow up. In our own society, if one grows up in a language environment which includes and approve such a concept as 'white supremacy', one can quite 'morally' engage in the process of murdering civil-rights workers. Similarly, if one is living in a language environment where the term 'black power' crystallizes an ideological identity, one can engage, again quite 'morally', in acts of violence against any non-black persons or their property. An insensitivity to the unconscious effects of our 'natural' metaphors condemns us to highly constricted perceptions of how things are and, therefore, to highly limited alternative modes of behaviour.

"Those who are sensitive to the verbally built-in biases of their 'natural' environment seem 'subversive' to those who are not. There is probably nothing more dangerous to the prejudices of the latter than a man in the process of discovering that the language of his group is limited, misleading, or one-sided. Such a man is dangerous because he is not easily enlisted on the side of one ideology or another, because he sees beyond the words to the processes which give an ideology its reality. In his ‘May Man Prevail?’ Erich Fromm gives us an example of a man (himself) in the process of doing just that:

"The Russians believe that they represent socialism because they talk in terms of Marxist ideology, and they do not recognize how similar their system is to the most developed form of capitalism. We in the West believe that we represent the system of individualism, private initiative, and humanistic ethics, because we hold on to our ideology, and we do not see that our institutions have, in fact, in many ways become more and more similar to the hated system of communism.

"Religious indoctrination is still another example of this point. As Alan Watts has noted: 'irrevocable commitment to any religion is not only intellectual suicide; it is positive unfaith because it closes the mind to any new vision of the world. Faith is, above all, openness - an act of trust in the unknown' And so 'crap detecting' require a perspective on what Watts calls 'the standard-brand religions'. That perspective can also be applied to knowledge. If you substitute the phrase 'set of facts' for the word 'religion' in the quotation above, the statement is equally important and accurate.

"The need for this kind of perspective has always been urgent but never so urgent as now. We will not take you again through that painful catalogue of twentieth-century problems we cited in our introduction There are, however, three particular problems
[summarized below] which force us to conclude that the schools must consciously remake themselves into training centers for 'subversion'. In one sense, they are all one problem but for purposes of focus may be distinguished from each other.

"The first goes under the name of the 'communications revolution’ or media change…Very few of us have contemplated more rigorously what is happening through media change than Jacques Ellul who has sounded some chilling alarms. Without mass media, Ellul insists, there can be no effective propaganda. With them, there is almost nothing but. 'Only through concentration of a large number of media in a few hands can one attain a true orchestration, a continuity, and an application of scientific methods of influencing individuals.' That such concentration is occurring daily, Ellul says, is an established fact, and its results may well be an almost total homogenization of thought among those the media reach…

"Still another way of saying this is that, while there has been a tremendous increase in media there has been, at the same time, a decrease in available and viable 'democratic' channels of communication because the mass media are entirely one-way communication…No one can reach many people unless he has access to the mass media." 

Remember, these words were written over forty years ago. Today we know how prescient they were. And we now know that the only way we can counter the mass media, the Fourth Estate, is via the burgeoning Fifth Estate.

"We come then to a second problem which makes necessary a 'subversive' role for the schools. This one may appropriately be called the 'change revolution'. In order to illustrate what this means, we will use the media again and the metaphor of a clock face. [Remember, Postman and Weingartner wrote their book over forty years ago.] Imagine a clock face with sixty minutes on it. Let the clock stand for the time men have had access to writing systems. Our clock would thus represent something like three thousand years, and each minute on our clock fifty years. On this scale, there were no significant media changes until about nine minutes ago. At that time, the printing press came into use in Western culture. About three minutes ago, the telegraph, photograph, and locomotive arrived. Two minutes ago: the telephone, rotary press, motion pictures, automobile, aeroplane and radio. One minute ago, the talking picture. Television has appeared in the last ten seconds, the computer in the last five, and communications satellites in the last second. The laser beam - perhaps the most potent medium of communication of all - appeared only a fraction of a second ago…" [And social media just a few microseconds ago.]

"All of which brings us to the third problem: the 'burgeoning bureaucracy'. We are brought there because bureaucracies, in spite of their seeming indispensability, are by their nature highly resistant to change. The motto of most bureaucracies is, ‘Carry on, regardless'. There is an essential mindlessness about them which causes them, in most circumstances, to accelerate entropy rather than to impede it. Bureaucracies rarely ask themselves Why?, but only How?... "

Postman and Weingartner conclude their chapter on ‘Crap Detecting’ thus:

"What is the necessary business of the schools? To create eager consumers? To transmit the dead ideas, values, metaphors, and information of three minutes ago? To create smoothly functioning bureaucrats? These aims are truly subversive since they undermine our chances of surviving as a viable, democratic society. And they do their work in the name of convention and standard practice. We would like to see the schools go into the anti-entropy business. Now, that is subversive, too. But the purpose is to subvert attitude, beliefs and assumptions that foster chaos and uselessness."

During these last two years of unremitting political crap, we all have needed Hemingway’s built-in, shockproof, industrial-strength crap detector.

PM Gillard admonished journalists with: ‘Don’t write crap’, but they carried on doing so nevertheless. We have had crap dealt out about climate change, the economy, the competence of the Government, the integrity of our PM, and as recently as last week we had Justice Rares deliver a harsh judgement about the attempt of James Ashby and his co-conspirators to bring a sexual harassment case against the Speaker of the House with the intent of bringing him down and the Government with him. Although he didn’t use the word, Rares could have aptly described the Ashby case as ‘crap’. So, he threw it out, presumably onto the growing political ‘crap heap’. Then last week we had Tony Abbott heap more crap on the crap heap as he used weasel words to camouflage his involvement, and that of Mal Brough. He’s still at it, walking away from questions about Brough as recently as yesterday at the presser he called to gloat over the now-doubtful budget surplus.

The lesson for schools is that as the crap mushrooms, we need urgently to help our young to learn how to analyze, integrate, and synthesize information, concepts, and understandings into a meaningful whole, all the time looking for and detecting crap with their inbuilt crap detector, and consigning it to a place where it can do no harm. The health of our democracy depends on it.

What do you think?

Focus on political ideology: Joseph E Stiglitz

This is the second in the end-of-year series on The Political Sword on political ideology. It is based on a Stiglitz’s book: The Price of Inequality

Stiglitz’ book was published in mid 2012 in New York by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., and in London by Allen Lane, part of the Penguin Group.

Stiglitz is a Nobel laureate in economics, is currently a professor at Columbia University in the Department of Economics and the School of International and Public Affairs, and has taught at Stanford, Yale, Princeton, and Oxford. He was chair of President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, and was Senior Vice President and Chief Economist of the World Bank. He has pioneered theories in the fields of economic information, taxation, development, trade, and technical change.

The summary that follows is provided by Project Syndicate, an international not-for-profit newspaper syndicate and association of newspapers that distributes commentaries and analysis.

”America likes to think of itself as a land of opportunity, and others view it in much the same light. But, while we can all think of examples of Americans who rose to the top on their own, what really matters are the statistics: to what extent do an individual’s life chances depend on the income and education of his or her parents?

“Nowadays, these numbers show that the American dream is a myth. There is less equality of opportunity in the United States today than there is in Europe – or, indeed, in any advanced industrial country for which there are data.

“This is one of the reasons that America has the highest level of inequality of any of the advanced countries – and its gap with the rest has been widening. In the “recovery” of 2009-2010, the top 1% of US income earners captured 93% of the income growth. Other inequality indicators – like wealth, health, and life expectancy – are as bad or even worse. The clear trend is one of concentration of income and wealth at the top, the hollowing out of the middle, and increasing poverty at the bottom.

“It would be one thing if the high incomes of those at the top were the result of greater contributions to society, but the Great Recession showed otherwise: even bankers who had led the global economy, as well as their own firms, to the brink of ruin, received outsize bonuses.

“A closer look at those at the top reveals a disproportionate role for rent-seeking: some have obtained their wealth by exercising monopoly power; others are CEOs who have taken advantage of deficiencies in corporate governance to extract for themselves an excessive share of corporate earnings; and still others have used political connections to benefit from government munificence – either excessively high prices for what the government buys (drugs), or excessively low prices for what the government sells (mineral rights).

“Likewise, part of the wealth of those in finance comes from exploiting the poor, through predatory lending and abusive credit-card practices. Those at the top, in such cases, are enriched at the direct expense of those at the bottom.

“It might not be so bad if there were even a grain of truth to trickle-down economics – the quaint notion that everyone benefits from enriching those at the top. But most Americans today are worse off – with lower real (inflation-adjusted) incomes – than they were in 1997, a decade and a half ago. All of the benefits of growth have gone to the top.

“Defenders of America’s inequality argue that the poor and those in the middle shouldn’t complain. While they may be getting a smaller share of the pie than they did in the past, the pie is growing so much, thanks to the contributions of the rich and superrich, that the size of their slice is actually larger. The evidence, again, flatly contradicts this. Indeed, America grew far faster in the decades after World War II, when it was growing together, than it has since 1980, when it began growing apart.

“This shouldn’t come as a surprise, once one understands the sources of inequality. Rent-seeking distorts the economy. Market forces, of course, play a role, too, but markets are shaped by politics; and, in America, with its quasi-corrupt system of campaign finance and its revolving doors between government and industry, politics is shaped by money.

“For example, a bankruptcy law that privileges derivatives over all else, but does not allow the discharge of student debt, no matter how inadequate the education provided, enriches bankers and impoverishes many at the bottom. In a country where money trumps democracy, such legislation has become predictably frequent.

“But growing inequality is not inevitable. There are market economies that are doing better, both in terms of both GDP growth and rising living standards for most citizens. Some are even reducing inequalities.

“America is paying a high price for continuing in the opposite direction. Inequality leads to lower growth and less efficiency. Lack of opportunity means that its most valuable asset – its people – is not being fully used. Many at the bottom, or even in the middle, are not living up to their potential, because the rich, needing few public services and worried that a strong government might redistribute income, use their political influence to cut taxes and curtail government spending. This leads to underinvestment in infrastructure, education, and technology, impeding the engines of growth.

“The Great Recession has exacerbated inequality, with cutbacks in basic social expenditures and with high unemployment putting downward pressure on wages. Moreover, the United Nations Commission of Experts on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System, investigating the causes of the Great Recession, and the International Monetary Fund have both warned that inequality leads to economic instability.

“But, most importantly, America’s inequality is undermining its values and identity. With inequality reaching such extremes, it is not surprising that its effects are manifest in every public decision, from the conduct of monetary policy to budgetary allocations. America has become a country not “with justice for all,” but rather with favouritism for the rich and justice for those who can afford it – so evident in the foreclosure crisis, in which the big banks believed that they were too big not only to fail, but also to be held accountable.

“America can no longer regard itself as the land of opportunity that it once was. But it does not have to be this way: it is not too late for the American dream to be restored.”

Stiglitz’s book is in harmony with the last piece: The ideology of politics: Ross Gittins in which Gittins comments on Professor Jeffrey Sachs’ book: The Price of Civilisation.

Using the US as the context, Stiglitz talk of matters we have discussed here before: the inequality that gives the top earners almost all of the income growth thereby widening the gap between the very rich and the rest, the growing role of rent seekers, the fallacy of ‘trickle down economics’. Stiglitz examines particularly the social effects of inequality – slowing growth, rising unemployment, downward pressure on wages, underinvestment in infrastructure, education and technology, adverse effects on the health of the middle and lower classes, and social discord.

It’s now over to you, readers of The Political Sword.

What do you think?

Focus on political ideology: Ross Gittins

This is the first of a series that will be posted periodically over the end-of-year break on The Political Sword. It is designed to give you an opportunity to comment on the important ideological and philosophical issues that influence contemporary politics.

The centerpiece of this first post is a lucidly written and challenging opinion piece by Ross Gittins, the Sydney Morning Herald's Economics Editor, which appeared in the National Times on 5 December 2012. It is titled: A warning as market pipes tune in America.

His piece is prefaced by a video where he reviews a book: The Price of Civilisation. He begins: “Libertarianism is the notion that the only ethical value that matters is liberty, but one of America’s leading economists, Professor Jeffrey Sachs, isn’t having a bar of it in his latest book, The Price of Civilisation.

You will get the gist of Gittins’ article if you first view the video. Click this link and play the video.

The entire article, as it appears in the National Times, is in italics below:

"Just as it's taking the world a lot longer to recover from the global financial crisis than we initially expected, so it's taking a lot longer than we might have expected for voters and their governments to learn the lessons and make the changes needed to ensure such devastation doesn't recur. But the penny has dropped for some.

Jeffrey Sachs, of Columbia University, is one of the biggest-name economists in the world. Yet in his book, The Price of Civilisation: Economics and Ethics after the Fall, he admits America's greatest problem is moral, not economic. Actually, he says that at the root of America's economic crisis lies a moral crisis. He puts into words thoughts most of us have hardly dared to think.

Sachs says America's weaknesses are warning signs for the rest of the world. ''The society that led the world in financial liberalisation, round-the-clock media saturation, television-based election campaigns and mass consumerism is now revealing the downside of a society that has let market institutions run wild over politics and public values,'' he says.

His book ''tracks the many ills that now weigh on the American psyche and the American financial system: an economy of hype, debt and waste that has achieved economic growth and high incomes at the cost of extreme income inequality, declining trust among members of the society and the public's devastating loss of confidence in the national government as an instrument of public well-being''.

Even if the American economy is on the skids, he says, the hyper-commercialism invented in America is on the international rise. So, too, are the attendant ills: inequality, corruption, corporate power, environmental threats and psychological destabilisation.

''A society of markets, laws and elections is not enough if the rich and powerful fail to behave with respect, honesty and compassion toward the rest of society and towards the world. America has developed the world's most competitive market society but has squandered its civic virtue along the way.

''Without restoring an ethos of social responsibility, there can be no meaningful and sustained economic recovery.''

America's crisis developed gradually over several decades, he argues. It's the culmination of an era - the baby-boomer era - rather than of particular policies or presidents. It is a bipartisan affair: both Democrats and Republicans have played their part.

''On many days it seems that the only difference between the Republicans and Democrats is that Big Oil owns the Republicans while Wall Street owns the Democrats.''

Too many of America's elites - the super rich, the chief executives and many academics - have abandoned a commitment to social responsibility. They chase wealth and power, the rest of society be damned, he says.

We need to reconceive the idea of a good society. ''Most important, we need to be ready to pay the price of civilisation through multiple acts of good citizenship: bearing our fair share of taxes, educating ourselves deeply about society's needs, acting as vigilant stewards for future generations and remembering that compassion is the glue that holds society together.''

The American people are generally broadminded, moderate and generous, he says. But these are not the images of Americans we see on television or the adjectives that come to mind when we think of America's rich and powerful elite.

America's political institutions have broken down, so that the broad public no longer holds these elites to account. And the breakdown of politics also implicates the public. ''American society is too deeply distracted by our media-drenched consumerism to maintain habits of effective citizenship.''

Sachs says a healthy economy is a mixed economy, in which government and the marketplace play their roles. Yet the federal government has neglected its role for three decades, turning the levers of power over to the corporate lobbies.

The resulting ''corporatocracy'' involves a feedback loop. ''Corporate wealth translates into political power through campaign financing, corporate lobbying and the revolving door of jobs between government and industry; and political power translates into further wealth through tax cuts, deregulation and sweetheart contracts between government and industry. Wealth begets power, and power begets wealth.''

How have American voters allowed their democracy to be hijacked? ''Most voters are poorly informed and many are easily swayed by the intense corporate propaganda thrown their way in the few months leading to the elections.

''We have therefore been stuck in a low-level political trap: cynicism breeds public disengagement from politics; the public disengagement from politics opens the floodgates of corporate abuse; and corporate abuse deepens the cynicism.''

Sachs says globalisation and the rise of Asia risks the depletion of vital commodities such as fresh water and fossil fuels, and long-term damage to the earth's ecosystems.

''For a long time, economists ignored the problems of finite natural resources and fragile ecosystems,'' he writes. ''This is no longer possible. The world economy is pressing hard against various environmental limits, and there is still much more economic growth - and therefore environmental destruction and depletion - in the development pipeline.''

Two main obstacles to getting the global economy on an ecologically sustainable trajectory exist, he says. The first is that our ability to deploy more sustainable technologies, such as solar power, needs large-scale research and development.

The second is the need to overcome the power of corporate lobbies in opposing regulations and incentives that will steer markets towards sustainable solutions. ''So far, the corporate lobbies of the polluting industries have blocked such measures.''

In Australia, of course, the public interest has so far triumphed over corporate resistance. But the survival of both the carbon tax and the mining tax remains under threat."

We acknowledge our indebtedness for this piece to Ross Gittins, one of the finest writers in the mainstream media.  You might find the comments that follow his article informative.  They reveal starkly the variety of attitudes, and the wide variation in philosophy of his readers.

If you found Gittins’ article interesting you may also enjoy reading the rather dire account of the economy in the US: Debtpocalypse, Austerity and the Hollowing Out of America - Modern US history and the archeology of decline by Steve Fraser published in Common Dreams – Building Progressive Community.

It is now over to you, the users of The Political Sword, to express your views.

What do you think?

The media still has questions to answer

“Self congratulatory lemmings” was the phrase used by Jon Faine on ABC Radio 774 Melbourne this week to describe the media, and in particular the Canberra Press Gallery. The context was the so-called ‘AWU slush fund scandal’. He was referring to the incessant, yet fruitless assault on the Prime Minister over her time as a lawyer at Slater & Gordon twenty years ago.

Faine repeated what he has been saying for ages: that despite this matter having been trawled over time and again over several years, despite two hour-long press conferences where the Press Gallery was invited to ask any and every question about this matter, despite repeated questioning all this week by Julie Bishop in the House, nothing, repeat nothing, has ever been unearthed to implicate Julia Gillard in any wrong-doing.  Even a fifteen minute opportunity yesterday in the House for Tony Abbott to put his case of criminal behaviour by the PM yielded nothing, nothing at all. Yet the cry: ‘She still has questions to answer’ has echoed around the Gallery and appeared in print and on air, and it still does. No matter how many answers she gives to no matter how many questions, there are always more. No allegations have ever been made, but there are still ‘questions to answer’. 

In my view it is the mainstream media and especially the Canberra Press Gallery that has questions to answer, not Julia Gillard.

As Faine used the word ‘groupthink’ to describe journalists’ behaviour, I was reminded of the first blog piece I wrote four years ago, in June 2008, on Possum Comitatus’ Possum Box: Is the media in Australia suffering from groupthink?

In that piece, having defined groupthink, and having given a number of examples, I concluded: ”The result is media of indifferent quality, which generally follows the leader in promulgating facts that are often inaccurate or distorted, embraces fashionable concepts and buzz words, and indulges in ‘copy-cat’ commentary that does little to inform or enlighten. Perhaps the only reassuring aspect of this lamentable state of affairs is that so many of the voting public let most media offerings pass harmlessly over their heads.

“Many in the media abuse the power inherent in the journalistic pen. Where has objective, informed, balanced reporting and commenting gone? Often the two are confused as journalists seek to promulgate their views rather than the facts. It’s a pity that the small coterie of good quality journalists is diluted by such a motley collection of writers of indifferent, and in many instances, low standard. Groupthink seems to be the genesis of much of the pathology they exhibit.”

Has anything changed over these last four years? In my view the answer is ‘Yes’. The mainstream media has deteriorated, and continues to decline. Faine says the MSM has reached its lowest point.

What is the evidence for this assertion? Think back. Can you recall a time when the media has made such a meal out of any story, as it has of the S&G ‘scandal’? Can you remember any catchphrase being repeated so often by so many on such a plethora of platforms: newsprint, radio, TV, blogs? ‘PM Gillard still has questions to answer’ has been everywhere.

So here’s the first question the media has to answer:

What is the genesis of this obsessive pursuit of a matter twenty years old, which has been mulled over hundreds of times, over many years, without uncovering a ‘smoking gun’ to condemn Julia Gillard?

Let me hazard an opinion.

We all know that the business model of many of the traditional outlets is now obsolete. The rivers of gold from advertising have slowed to a trickle, and circulation revenue is down. Digital media are replacing print, but making it profitable has been difficult. Media houses have sacked journalists, others have left, and those remaining feel apprehensive, insecure, and overworked as they now have to prepare material for several platforms, and in less time.

As the thrust of journalism has progressively morphed from reporting into entertainment and titillation, as the attention span of consumers has shrunk to tiny sound bites or strident headlines, the quality of their work has deteriorated, has become more reliant on press releases, has become degraded into ‘he said, she said’ accounts of events, and more and more susceptible to groupthink as journalists talk with colleagues in the next office, chatter to each other and their ‘sources’ in the corridors of power and at their favourite watering holes. This week on the Jon Faine radio show, News Limited CEO Kim Williams denied that there was any groupthink in his organization!

I am not alone in my views. Mike Seccombe, in a comprehensive appraisal of the media in The Global Mail: Truth Tally – What’s Wrong With Australian Political Debate quotes Malcolm Turnbull. ”He [Turnbull] made particular reference to the media, saying that as news organizations came under greater cost pressures, good reporting which held governments and oppositions to account "was diminishing".
 "Instead, he said, newspapers and other media were resorting more to commentary and opinion and more to analysis of the effectiveness of political spin than to analysis of the substantive issues.”

We ought not be surprised then that the same boring, unoriginal phrases creep into their writings, the same people are interviewed by journalists and the same ‘insiders’ talk to each other on radio and TV shows. Boot leather remains pristine as investigative journalism morphs into superficial, insubstantial accounts of events, light on facts but heavy on opinion. Following Rupert Murdoch’s dictum that ‘opinion is news’, journalists now believe they can avoid the arduous task of fact gathering and fact checking, and substitute for them their own opinion. But on what is their opinion based?

We have seen the result of this approach. The Canberra Press Gallery has expressed its learned opinion only to be found to be wrong again and again.

We have had countless predictions of the fall of Julia Gillard as leader, if not by Easter, by mid-year, by year-end, and although we are in her third year, she is still leader and going from strength to strength. They have told us this ‘hung’ minority parliament cannot possibly work, that it is unmanageable; indeed it is ‘toxic’. Yet 449 pieces of legislation have already been passed in this term, some of them historic reforms such as the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, plans for more major reforms are in train this very week such as the NDIS and the Gonski education reform, and the economy is in great shape. How often can journalists be wrong before the electorate ignores them?

They were left standing mouths open wide when Kevin Rudd was replaced, and caught again when PM Gillard appeared with Bob Carr as Foreign Minister. And they got it completely wrong when they dismissed the PM’s ‘misogyny’ speech as inconsequential.

Indeed, I believe it is this stark exposure of their incompetence that has alienated many of them. They have resented looking stupid, they have been angered by PM Gillard’s unwillingness to kowtow to them and her readiness to pull them into line. ‘Don’t write crap’ upset them. Still seething, they are rude in press conferences, as was Sid Maher this week. Pulled into line, his antagonism will rise. The ‘experts’, the ‘insiders’, the ‘pontiffs’ have been exposed as pseudo emperors with no clothes. And they are angry, and express that anger in their vitriolic columns.

Add institutional antagonism to this personal resentment, and you have a formula for vituperative writing that seeks to demean the PM no matter what she does, that seeks to diminish whatever the Government achieves. We all know, and hear it from honest journalists, that News Limited has the institutional objective of bringing the Labor Government down, destroying the Greens at the ballot box, and installing an Abbott Government. Little attempt is made to disguise this. We know that Rupert Murdoch has this intent, as do the editors of his tabloids and broadsheets.

Recently, Fairfax has joined in the ‘let’s get Gillard’ campaign, and with some gusto by Peter Hartcher and Michelle Grattan, whose dislike of PM Gillard is palpable. Even the previously balanced AFR, now with ex-News Limited man Michael Stutchbury as its editor, has swung anti-Government, and some of its more balanced authors with it.

Returning to Seccombe’s article, he further quotes Turnbull: “…there is more media "narrowcasting" – strident partisanship aimed at like-minded consumers.
 "Fox News in the United States is an example of how commercially successful that strategy can be as are some of the shock jocks in Australia," he said. Dumbing down complex issues into sound bites, misrepresenting your or your opponent's policy does not respect 'Struggle Street'; it treats its residents with contempt. It is the opposite of the Jeffersonian ideal," said Turnbull.
 "This was extraordinary stuff, coming from a Liberal MP. He [Turnbull] was bagging the Murdoch media model – only Fox by name, but its Australian operation by implication – when he talked about that the "hopeless, confused, hyper-partisan" coverage of climate change. The News Ltd papers, and particularly The Australian, have led the climate-change deniers.”

There can be no doubt News Limited is partisan; it misrepresents facts that do not fit its case, lies when it suits it, and acts as a collaborative mouthpiece for the Coalition. Whilst it can do as it pleases, what it does do does not make a quality bipartisan balanced news outlet.

We know too that online media, the Internet, the Fifth Estate, and social media have made Old Media less relevant. News is available online before it can reach the newsstands. No longer is the Fourth Estate a repository of facts, figures, reasoned analysis and balanced opinion, as it once was. Opinion is available from a host of well-informed and articulate commentators in the Fifth Estate, who have access to as much information as journalists do, and who analyse it in a better-balanced way than most Fourth Estate journalists. We read their opinions every day, while eschewing the Fourth Estate, much of it locked behind pay walls, and not worth paying for.

Because Old Media cannot compete with the immediacy of online news, it seems to have taken on another role – advocacy. Look for example at The Australian. The front pages are now full of the S&G matter, every day, still. The paper is advocating the pursuit of our PM. There was nothing on its front page about the recent alarming reports on global warming which threatens our planet, just hundreds of column inches on S&G. Indeed the only major paper that reported on its front page the alarming global warming story out of the Doha talks was The Age. What has become of a media that gives precedence to a long-running non-story that it deems a ‘scandal’, but scarcely bothers to highlight a story about dangerous threats to our planet and everything on it?

So here is the next question the media has to answer.

What is the purpose of bringing down our PM and our elected Government?

Here again I offer an opinion. For News Limited there seems to be a commercial reason. We know Murdoch prefers conservative governments, as he believes they provide a more congenial environment for his empire and its expansion. That has come out starkly in the Leveson Inquiry. Ideologically too, Murdoch prefers conservative governments. He was a great supporter of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Regan, and although he supported Tony Blair, we now know that came at a price to Blair and his Labor Government. Here, Tony Abbott is his man. ‘I hope he liked me’ said Abbott after his only meeting with Murdoch.

There is another reason Murdoch wants Labor gone – the threat of a body being established to regulate the media, a move vehemently opposed by Murdoch’s man here, Kim Williams.

Ben Eltham has views on the media’s role in the S&G saga. He wrote a comprehensive piece this week on the facts of the matter: The AWU Scandal Unpacked. If you wish to read a summary, you won’t find one better than his.

But this piece is not about this matter; instead it is used as background to illustrate the current state of the media and the questions it still has to answer.

Eltham wrote another piece on the same day: Gillard Puts The Press To Shame. After giving a thorough analysis that will repay your attention, he concludes: “Throughout the coverage of this affair, the onus of proof has consistently been placed on the Prime Minister by the media. The common line has been that she has "questions to answer". That argument is dead in the water, given that the Prime Minister has twice answered all the questions the media has put, at considerable length.

“In fact, the onus of proof in investigative reporting should run the other way. The role of journalists is not simply to ask questions. It is to uncover evidence and to substantiate and corroborate serious allegations. The argument that the Prime Minister owes the public an explanation of her actions 17 years ago is valid. But she has provided an explanation, many times.

“Perhaps its time we asked some questions of journalists like Hedley Thomas and Mark Baker.”

“Some questions that come to my mind are:

When does an investigation become a giant fishing expedition?

What responsibilities do journalists have to back up their claims? 

And if you have evidence to support your leading questions, why won’t you release it?

Most importantly, in a week in which legislation for the National Disability Insurance Scheme was introduced to Parliament, we need to ask:

Why is this even news?

While these questions arise out of the S&G matter, they are generic. They could, and should be asked of journalists no matter what they are reporting.

Yes, journalists are the ones who have questions to answer. I have suggested some specific ones about the S&G matter, and some generic ones arising out of it.

Writing in The Conservation in AWU ‘scandal’ says more about the media’s ethics than the PM’s, Janine Little says: ”Mainstream campaign journalism being what it is, competing for its shrinking share of a public attention span focused largely on social media, journalists haven’t let a lack of evidence stop their pursuit of the prime minister. If mainstream media organizations are attempting to compete with the reach and timbre of social media at the expense of a sustained respect for evidence and fact-based reporting, then it’s journalists who practice such things who stand to lose most.

“Journalism based on solid research and verified source material has uncovered serious wrongdoing not so long ago in Australia’s past, and for the benefit of a public’s right to know what matters. When there’s hardly anyone willing to question why an array of facts pointing away from the prime minister somehow keeps media organisations hot on her trail, it becomes solely a question of ethics answerable by journalists rather than Julia Gillard.”

For the reasons suggested in this piece, the standard of journalism in the Fourth Estate has deteriorated since I first wrote about it over four years ago, and it continues to slide. The perversion of journalism brought about by the pursuit of partisan ideological objectives, aggravated by commercial and professional stresses within the Fourth Estate, accentuated by the loss of its status, prestige, and previously unchallenged authority, continues relentlessly.

It is depressing to see what was once a lofty and respected professional contribution to our society now so degenerate, ineffectual and disrespected.

This piece asserts that it is journalists and indeed the entire Fourth Estate that has questions to answer, questions about its intent, its behaviour, its ethics, its performance, and the quality of its offerings. Unless the Fourth Estate has the courage to answer these questions, unless it is willing to address its problems, it will sink into obscurity, replaced by a plethora of other providers of news, analysis and opinion, many in the Fifth Estate.

After seeing the media reaction to how Julia Gillard’s outmanoeuvered and humiliated Tony Abbott in the last QT for the year, I have little hope the Fourth Estate has learned anything at all. The commentators continue to insist that ‘She still has questions to answer’.

They remain self congratulatory lemmings.

What do you think?

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So the globe is warming after all

Climate skeptics and deniers should read no further. The factual information below will cause them to have acute cognitive dissonance as the facts and figures clash with their entrenched beliefs and fantasies.

I suppose it is coincidental, but recently there has been a spate of reports on the state of the globe, and all point in the one direction, the globe is warming, and the only plausible explanation is the man-made accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Let’s look first at the recent World Bank-commissioned report, Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided (pdf) (eBook version), carried out by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, on behalf of the Bank.

I will quote extensively from an article published on November 18 this year by the Bank: Climate Change Report Warns of Dramatically Warmer World This Century, which begins with these highlights:

“The New World Bank-commissioned report warns the world is on track to a ‘4°C world’ marked by extreme heat waves and life-threatening sea level rise.

“Adverse effects of global warming are “tilted against many of the world's poorest regions” and likely to undermine development efforts and goals.

“In response, the Bank is contemplating increased support for adaptation, mitigation, inclusive green growth, and climate-smart development.”

Drawing attention to this summer’s satellite image of the melting Greenland ice sheet, the report suggests that “…time may be running out to temper the rising risks of climate change”, and the Bank “…warns we’re on track for a 4°C warmer world marked by extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise.”

The Bank adds that because the effects of a warming climate are “…tilted against many of the world's poorest regions”, they are “…likely to undermine development efforts and global development goals”. The report urges "…further mitigation action as the best insurance against an uncertain future."

Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group insists: "A 4°C warmer world can, and must be, avoided – we need to hold warming below 2°C. Lack of action on climate change threatens to make the world our children inherit a completely different world than we are living in today. Climate change is one of the single biggest challenges facing development, and we need to assume the moral responsibility to take action on behalf of future generations, especially the poorest."

The World Bank article continues: “The report, reviewed by some of the world’s top scientists, is being released ahead of the next comprehensive studies by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2013/14, and follows the Bank’s own Strategic Framework for Development and Climate Change in 2008 and the World Development Report on climate change in 2010. ‘Turn Down the Heat’ combines a synthesis of recent scientific literature with new analysis of likely impacts and risks, focusing on developing countries. It chronicles already observed climate change and impacts, such as heat waves and other extreme events, and offers projections for the 21st century for droughts, heat waves, sea level rise, food, water, ecosystems and human health.

“The report says today’s climate could warm from the current global mean temperature of 0.8°C above pre-industrial levels, to as high as 4°C by 2100, even if countries fulfill current emissions-reduction pledges.

"This report reinforces the reality that today’s climate volatility affects everything we do," said Rachel Kyte, the Bank’s Vice President for Sustainable Development. "We will redouble our efforts to build adaptive capacity and resilience, as well as find solutions to the climate challenge."

“The World Bank doubled lending for climate change adaptation last year and plans to step up efforts to support countries’ initiatives to mitigate carbon emissions and promote inclusive green growth and climate-smart development. Among other measures, the Bank administers the $7.2 billion Climate Investment Funds now operating in 48 countries and leveraging an additional $43 billion in clean investment and climate resilience.”

Let’s look at some details:

Rising Sea Levels
“The report says sea levels have been rising faster in the last two decades than previously, and this rise is being seen in many tropical regions of the world. This phenomenon is partly due to melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets; the rapid growth in melt area observed since the 1970s in Greenland’s ice sheet is a clear illustration of its increasing vulnerability. Arctic sea ice also reached a record minimum in September 2012. There are indications that the greatest melt extent in the past 225 years has occurred in the last decade. It’s early yet but clearly some of the small island states and coastal communities are beginning to take a hard look at their options. The need to adapt to climate change will increase as global population reaches 9 billion in 2050.”

Ocean Acidification
“Coral reefs are acutely sensitive to changes in water temperature and acidity levels. The report warns that by the time the warming levels reach 1.4° C in 2030s, coral reefs may stop growing. This would be a result of oceans becoming more acidic as a result of higher CO2 concentrations. And with 2.4° C, coral reefs in several areas may actually start to dissolve. This is likely to have profound consequences for people who depend on them for food, income, tourism and shoreline protection.”

Heat Extremes
“A 4°C warmer world would also suffer more extreme heat waves, and these events will not be evenly distributed across the world, according to the report.

“Sub-tropical Mediterranean, northern Africa, the Middle East, and the contiguous United States are likely to see monthly summer temperatures rise by more than 6°C. Temperatures of the warmest July between 2080-2100 in the Mediterranean are expected to approach 35°C – about 9°C warmer than the warmest July estimated for the present day. The warmest July month in the Sahara and the Middle East will see temperatures as high as 45°C, or 6-7°C above the warmest July simulated for the present day.”

Lower agricultural yields
”Hotter weather could in turn lower crop yields in a 4°C world, raising concerns about future food security. Field experiments have shown that crops are highly sensitive to temperatures above certain thresholds. One study cited in the report found that each “growing degree day” spent at a temperature of 30 degrees decreases yields by 1% under drought-free rain-fed conditions.

“The report also says drought-affected areas would increase from 15.4% of global cropland today, to around 44% by 2100. The most severely affected regions in the next 30 to 90 years will likely be in southern Africa, the United States, southern Europe and Southeast Asia, says the report. In Africa, the report predicts 35% of cropland will become unsuitable for cultivation in a 5°C world.”

Risks to Human Support Systems
”The report identifies severe risks related to adverse impacts on water availability, particularly in northern and eastern Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. River basins like the Ganges and the Nile are particularly vulnerable. In Amazonia, forest fires could as much double by 2050. The world could lose several habitats and species with a 4°C warming.”

Non-linear impacts
”As global warming approaches and exceeds 2°C, there is a risk of triggering nonlinear tipping elements. Examples include the disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet leading to more rapid sea-level rise, or large-scale Amazon dieback drastically affecting ecosystems, rivers, agriculture, energy production, and livelihoods. This would further add to 21st-century global warming and impact entire continents.

“The projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur—the heat must be turned down. Only early, cooperative, international actions can make that happen".

And while the globe is burning, some politicians fiddle, filled with doubt as they are by the skeptics and deniers. It is criminal negligence on a monumental scale.

In case anyone thinks that sitting here down under we might be spared these terrifying consequences of global warming, let’s turn to the evidence, that is verifiable facts and figures presented on the 15 November edition of the ABC’s Catalyst, where Dr Jonica Newby interviewed several climate scientists. If you missed this informative program, you may wish to view it here.

Dr Kenneth Green says: ”In 60 years, we've lost a third of our total snow cover. But there is some rough comfort for my skiing aspirations. And that is that the beginning of the season hasn't really changed.

”So, basically, since 1954, snow depth in July is much the same. When you reach September, it starts to drop off. So that by October it's noticeably less. Essentially, spring is coming earlier.

“It's even clearer when you look at the records for the thaw, now two weeks earlier than in the '60s. And the snowline appears to have lately moved up from 1,500m to 1,600m.

“So we're looking at minimum temperatures. And, Karl, basically, this is how cold it gets at night.”

Dr Karl Braganza:
”That's correct, Jonica. If we start at the Snowy here, we've warmed by about 1.1 degrees since a century ago. And that's similar to Perth, Sydney. If we're looking over here at Cairns, it's almost 2 degrees since 1910.

”So that's night-time minimums, but I bet what most of you are more interested in is what's happened to daytime maximums. And, for that... I'm heading here.”

”You can see here - Sydney through to Melbourne, Canberra, Hobart, they've warmed up by about 0.7 of a degree. And in some capitals a lot less. Adelaide - 0.3. But if you go over to the west - Perth - and into the centre - Alice Springs - you've got 1.1 to almost 2 degrees of warming.
 Overall, averaging maximums and minimums, our nation's core temperature has gone up 0.9 of a degree.”

”Alright, so this next diagnostic is... a measure of extremes.”

”It is. And what we've seen is more and more stations are breaking extreme heat in the last 100 years, and less are breaking extreme cold.
 In fact, in the last ten years, the number of stations breaking extreme heat records has doubled those breaking extreme cold. So, frosty nights are becoming less common, but extreme heat days are becoming more common.”

Katherine Brown (of Brown Brothers vineyards):
”Talking to our scientists, winemakers and viticulturists, they really pretty much turned to the board and said, 'We have to find this cooler-climate property because within decades we could see a 2-degrees temperature rise in our current vineyards in Victoria.' So, they pretty much told us that if we continued to want to do what we do best, make quality wine, we had to come south.”

”So the chance of one month being above-average temperature, is one in two. The chance of the next month also being above-average temperature, is one in four. The chance of the next month also being above-average temperature, is one in eight.”

So what do you think are the chances of having 330 months in a row of above-average temperatures? Because, since February 1985, we have had... 330 months in a row of above-average (global) temperatures.”

Dr Mark Howden:
 ”It's really extraordinary. If it was just by random chance alone, then there's only a 1 in 100,000 chance that that would have happened in the absence of human influence.”

”It's exciting times for Tasmanian fishermen. With so many new fish arriving, they've teamed up with scientists to plot them. They've seen leather jacks, green turtles, dusky morwong...”

Mark Nikolai: 
”It's actually really good news for Tasmanian fishermen, because all the New South Wales fish are moving south into our waters.
 “All in all, scientists have confirmed 45 new species have, like Brown Brothers, shipped on down to Tassie.”

 ”Well, obviously, if fish from the big island are moving down, the water here must have got warmer.”

“Alright, Dr Karl. National round-up time again. 100-year health check. Circulation.”

 ”What we're going to look at now, Jonica, is the sea-surface temperatures around Australia. And what we've seen is about a degree of warming over the last century. But you can see over the East Coast we have more warming than we do over the West Coast. There's some hot spots as well. And that's off the coast of Victoria and Tasmania. Sea temperatures here off Tasmania have risen an astounding 2.28 degrees. That's about four times the global ocean average.”

”When the original records were rediscovered just a decade ago, Dr John Hunter was able to work out what's happened.”

Dr John Hunter:
 ”OK, the total sea-level rise since 1841 is about 17 centimetres. So, if you raise sea level by just 10 centimetres...
you find you get a tripling of the number of flooding events. 
And if you raise it by another 10 centimetres, it goes up by another factor of three, so that's a total of nine.”

”So... so we've got nine times, effectively, the number of flooding events for structures at sea level than we did 100 years ago?”

 ”So what we're looking at here is basically from the satellite record from 1993. And we can see sea levels have risen everywhere.”

Newby: ”So, now, the last two years' rainfall have been quite extraordinary, haven't they?”

Braganza: ”They have. They've been record-breaking. So, over the last 24-month period, the two years, we've seen more rainfall in Australia for a 24-month period than we've ever seen in the historical record.”

 ”And tell me - does this have something to do with the fact that the ocean and the air temperatures are higher?”

 ”Normally, when you get a La Nina event you'll get almost record rainfall in Australia. This time, what we saw was record sea-surface temperatures around Australia. And so we've got basically a perfect storm. We've got a La Nina event. We've got global warming going on in the oceans around Australia. And then we've got this record rainfall as well.”

”Essentially, what the records show is that global warming isn't something that's coming - it's here in our backyards already. It's pointless now to ask, 'Is this climate change or natural variability?' What we see is one acting on top of the other.”

Braganza: ”So, every parcel of air, every ocean current, every weather system is now about a degree warmer. And when you go through and do the physics, that's actually a hell of a lot of energy added to the climate system in general.”

”You know, of all the things I learned on this investigation, it was that comment from Karl that really struck me. It was like, 'Aha! I finally get it.' There's one degree of extra heat across the whole planet. That's just a lot of new energy in our weather system. What happens when you add another degree? And another?”

Exactly, what happens? It gets worse and worse, until we get to the tipping point, where no matter what we do, the destructive process continues beyond the control of human beings.

Older people, those who make decisions about what to do about climate change, even if they acknowledge the disaster that looms, see it as far away and slow moving, something they can be relaxed about, something they can take action about when the time comes. What the World Bank Report tells us is that the time to act is NOW. If we don’t, our children and theirs will suffer the terrible consequences.

If you need any more convincing, read what Graham Readfearn had to say in Independent Australia in a piece titled: The Australian skews climate science… again that starts with how once more The Australian has misrepresented climate change science. The YouTube video that accompanies the piece will repay your attention. Make sure too that you scroll to the end where you will see a very revealing dynamic graph that shows how skeptics segment time periods in an attempt to show that the globe is not warming, in fact might be sometimes cooling, whereas if you look at the whole 40-year period the graph shows – 1970-2012, and insert a trend line (in red) the warming trend stands out starkly.

Writing in New Matilda in Our Role In The Climate Deadlock, Ben Eltham writes: ”The problem posed by climate change is difficult to overstate. It is global. It is endemic. It is devilishly difficult to address. But address it we must, or our children and grandchildren will inhabit a planet almost unimaginably different from our own: a world of dangerously destabilised climates, devastating natural disasters, flooded cities and dead coral reefs. A world most likely riven by conflict and war. A world in which the global economy struggles against the huge cost of dealing with a preventable global disaster that our generation did little to prevent.”

The ramifications of climate change go way beyond variations in climate. In an article by Tristan Edis in Climate Spectator, John Hewson: Climate change the next sub-prime meltdown he writes of his interview with Hewson, who has now taken up the Chair of the Asset Owners Disclosure Project, an initiative aimed at getting retirement and superannuation funds to pay more heed to the risks of climate change and the need to invest more money in companies that reduce carbon emissions. Hewson ”equates climate change as equivalent in its likely impacts on financial markets to that of the sub-prime loan crisis that led to the GFC. He also points out that governments across the globe are subsidizing carbon intensive industries, and board members can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to the risks associated with investing in these industries.”

Again in Climate Spectator Julian Poulter writes in The climate for super fear: ”The largest pool of money in the world is held by the big pension and superannuation funds – called the ‘Asset Owners’. They have a fiduciary duty to us to invest wisely and the unique risk-return challenge of climate change and other ESG issues (Environment, Social, Governance) have prompted us in recent times to question whether they are carrying out their duties.

“The problem arises because we know that the Asset Owners give our money to fund managers who in turn invest in companies. And sages that we are, we have a sneaky suspicion that some of the investments aren’t sustainable and that in the context of climate change, we might wake up one day with the mixed news that the low carbon economy is fully underway but our retirement savings portfolios that are currently stuffed with high carbon assets are worth dramatically less than they were yesterday. And when this sudden low carbon tipping point occurs, causing inevitable portfolio destruction, it won’t be like the sub-prime crisis where the highly technical complexity of the issue engaged us all for months allowing everyone to avoid true scrutiny. No, this is climate change – it’s simple and we’ve been talking about it for years and trustees cannot now escape.”

In the face of all this evidence, in the face of all these warnings, how can anyone take a cavalier attitude to climate change, how can anyone ignore the reality of global warming so recklessly? The only explanation is that these people are the climate equivalent of the Obama ‘birthers’ and the Creationists who believe the planet is only 6000 years old, who cast aside evidence, ignore verifiable facts, so that their beliefs, their ‘faith’ can hold sway.

These people can never be convinced. But there must be some rational people out there who if they knew the facts would be so scared out of their wits for the welfare of their grandchildren that they would act, and would support any government that was acting decisively to mitigate the effects of climate change, even if the cost was high. The cost of not acting is much, much higher.

We must counter the deniers and skeptics. The survival of the human race, and indeed all living things, depends on it.

What do you think?

UPDATE 29 November 2012

Since writing this piece, two further reports on global warming have emerged that will repay your attention.

The first was: UN Report: Melting Permafrost Seen as New Peril in Global Warming that alerts us to the extreme danger of the release of the powerful greenhouse gas, methane, from melting permafrost in the Arctic.

It began: ”Permafrost lands across Siberia and Alaska that contain vast stores of carbon are beginning to thaw, bringing with it the threat of a big increase in global warming by 2100, a U.N. report said on Tuesday.

“A thaw of the vast areas of permanently frozen ground in Russia, Canada, China and the United States also threatens local homes, roads, railways and oil pipelines, the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) said in the report which was released at the U.N. climate talks being held this week and next in Qatar.

“Permafrost has begun to thaw,” Kevin Schaefer, lead author at the University of Colorado told a news conference in Doha.

“An accelerating melt would free vast amounts of carbon dioxide and methane, which has been trapped in organic matter in the subsoil, often for thousands of years, the report said.

“Warming permafrost could release the equivalent of between 43 and 135 billion tons of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, by 2100. That would be up to 39 percent of annual emissions from human sources.

“Permafrost now contains 1,700 billion tons of carbon, or twice the amount now in the atmosphere, it said.

The second came out today from the Doha talks. It is reported in The New York Times in an article Global Warming & Climate Change (Doha Talks, 2012.UN Report: Melting Permafrost Seen as New Peril in Global Warming that begins:

”Global warming has become perhaps the most complicated issue facing world leaders. Warnings from the scientific community are becoming louder, as an increasing body of science points to rising dangers from the ongoing buildup of human-related greenhouse gases — produced mainly by the burning of fossil fuels and forests.

“Global emissions of carbon dioxide jumped by the largest amount on record in 2010, upending the notion that the brief decline during the recession might persist through the recovery. The increase solidified a trend of ever-rising emissions that scientists fear will make it difficult, if not impossible, to forestall severe climate change in coming decades.”

There is another version published in Salon: Area of Arctic sea ice larger than US melted this year U.N. weather agency released worrying report at Doha talks. It begins: ”An area of Arctic sea ice bigger than the United States melted this year, according the U.N. weather agency, which said the dramatic decline illustrates that climate change is happening “before our eyes.”

“In a report released at U.N. climate talks in the Qatari capital of Doha, the World Meteorological Organization said the Arctic ice melt was one of a myriad of extreme and record-breaking weather events to hit the planet in 2012. Droughts devastated nearly two-thirds of the United States as well western Russia and southern Europe. Floods swamped west Africa and heat waves left much of the Northern Hemisphere sweltering.

“But it was the ice melt that seemed to dominate the annual climate report, with the U.N. concluding ice cover had reached “a new record low” in the area around the North Pole and that the loss from March to September was a staggering 11.83 million square kilometers (4.57 million square miles) – an area bigger than the United States.

“The alarming rate of its melt this year highlighted the far-reaching changes taking place on Earth’s oceans and biosphere,” WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said. “Climate change is taking place before our eyes and will continue to do so as a result of the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which have risen constantly and again reached new records.”

“The dire climate news – following on the heels of a report Tuesday that found melting permafrost could significantly amplify global warming – comes as delegates from nearly 200 countries struggled for a third day to lay the groundwork for a deal that would cut emissions in an attempt to ensure that temperatures don’t rise more than 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) over what they were in preindustrial times. Temperatures have already risen about 0.8 degrees C (1.4 degrees F), according to the latest report by the IPCC.”

These reports are scary.

Is there life after neoliberalism?

Yes there can be, says Hugh Stretton in his unfairly neglected book, Australia Fair (UNSW Press, 2005). I recently wrote about the general argument of this book in Australia Fair by Hugh Stretton. Here, I’m going to look at the specifics. But just to recap, Stretton argues that the neoliberal economic reforms of the past thirty years - floating the dollar, reducing tariffs, privatisation of public assets, lower taxation and spending cuts - have not brought the economic gains claimed for them. And he says they make for greater inequality. There have been a few improvements since he wrote in 2005, but not many. Mostly, things have got worse. He argues that a rich country like Australia should be able to assure a comfortable living for all citizens, and outlines a program involving both the public and the private sector to achieve this. Interested?

It’s not possible in a short review to do justice to all that Stretton is suggesting, or to include all the for and against arguments, reservations and complexities he mentions. For this, you must read the book. Furthermore, the policies that make up his program are inter-related, though I am mostly discussing them separately. His writes in a somewhat idiosyncratic style, and though he tries to keep his economic discussion simple, he loses me sometimes. Please forgive my oversimplification.

Stretton begins with ‘work’, because in his argument, full or fairly shared employment should be the main purpose of economic policy. He says that ‘every consideration of economy and humanity should drive us to see that there is paid work for everyone who wants it.’ But having given up most of their power to control the economy in favour of free market prescriptions, the only way governments can control inflation is by sustaining a significant level of unemployment. This is not only disastrous for those experiencing it; it results in less production, less demand and less investment. It also means a higher welfare bill – and/or the demonization of the unemployed, even though there are no jobs for them. Furthermore it often results in an increase in working hours for the employed, not always paid, which in turn affects their quality of life. Achieving full employment depends on other parts of his program, so what he is advocating is quite complicated. It seems to be a combination of stimulating demand, including increasing some benefits, increasing some public employment and stimulating some private employment, particularly in the housing industry.

Stretton has had a long involvement with housing policy. He considers housing a right in a rich society like Australia, alongside the right to education and health provision. (This is the sort of ‘stuff’ Mitt Romney and Bill O’Reilly think Americans who voted for Obama are so remiss as to expect.) Here Stretton addresses the situation where as part of the neoliberal agenda, the Commonwealth has cut funding to the States for new housing investment, and States have sold off most of their existing stock of public housing. This has been replaced by a first home buyer grant and rent allowances to poor tenants who have to compete in the private rental market. The result of simultaneously cutting the supply and subsidising the demand was to raise prices, as first home buyers bid against each other for a limited stock of moderately priced housing. Waiting lists for public housing are years long, and homelessness continues to grow. His solution, which rather elegantly pays for itself over time, is to give Commonwealth money to the States who contract private builders to build good quality but relatively modest housing, half of which is for sale or rent to working families who pay full cost or rent, and half as welfare housing. If full employment reduces the numbers on welfare and increases the number able to pay market rent, then this proportion can change. An increase in public housing acts as a dampener on the private market, and everyone gains except those who are hoping for a large capital gain when they sell mum and dad’s house at an inflated price.

The next issue is what Stretton calls ‘children’, but is actually parenting. He asks how we can best bring up children and respect parents’ right to choose either paid employment or staying home to care for their young children. As things stand, women usually end up doing the unpaid housework in addition to paid work, and children end up in less than satisfactory child care. He agrees that family friendly work places may help, but argues that in addition, there should be a parenting wage equivalent to the basic wage available on a means tested basis to one parent so they can stay at home if they wish. He knows the arguments about rorting the system, but considers that the social good of the proposal outweighs the possible abuses.

In both health and education, Stretton argues that the Howard government favoured private over public provision, and allowed the latter to decline. The Rudd/Gillard government has made a start on these issues. There are some moves to fix the buck-passing between Federal and State governments, and the private health insurance rebate has been cut for some rich families. Stretton would have abolished it altogether, and spent the money on the public health system. He would also likely approve the Gonksi proposals to fund the public education system properly.

More surprising to me, he is also highly critical of current superannuation provision; he quotes another historian’s conclusion that ‘the privatisers of superannuation have presided over the creation of a league of parasites on a scale not seen since the close of the eighteenth century.’ Transparency, which is the best we are offered in relation to fees and charges, is not enough; he argues there should be a public superannuation scheme alongside the private ones to add some genuine competition. I find this chapter technical and difficult, but his general drift is clear.

On the environment, he says: ‘The neoliberal change of direction to greater business freedom, less public production, less government and steeper inequality could have been designed specifically to disable our environmental management.’ He outlines a ‘green program’ which is perhaps now somewhat out-dated, but more important is his warning of the further damage to equality that climate change and greedy consumption of resources could bring.

I also find Stretton’s chapter on managing money difficult, and guess that he might well revise the details post the Global Financial Crisis – which can only have confirmed his general critique; ‘the real fruit,’ he says, ‘of 25 years of well-intended blundering should be to discredit the economic theories on which the mistaken expectations were based.’

He has had a stab at costing his program, and suggests ways of finding the money. And here, you have to decide on whether he is unreasonably optimistic, or whether, as he argues, Australians really might support a program that offered better services and a more equal society, even if it meant higher taxes and forgoing some luxury consumption. It would take ‘guts and ingenuity’ to try, and of course leadership – which has so far been leading us pretty much in the wrong direction.

I do not know of any other book that not only offers a reasoned critique of the impact of neoliberal economic policies in Australia in the last thirty years, but also offers an alternative set that could just work. If only there was someone who would try them.

Do Australian businessmen really believe Tony Abbott?

The attributes needed to run a successful business include intelligence, relevant knowledge, perspicacity, foresight, an eye for opportunity, willingness to take a calculated risk, skill in innovation, perseverance, and guts. Australian businessmen have these in spades. In simple terms, they are smart. Yet from what we as outsiders can see, they seem to be willing to accept the damaging rhetoric about our economy that Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey and the Coalition front bench serve up day after day, with scarcely a murmur of concern, with almost no query about its validity, with no protest about its applicability, with no reservations about its effect on our economy and on the businesses they run.

As detailed in Abbott and Hockey are endangering Australian business, Abbott seems to be able to talk down the economy with impunity, thereby imperiling Australian businesses, without one word of condemnation from businessmen, without even a whisper of caution from them. Why is this so?

It is hard to believe that their silence is because they believe the rhetoric and accept the validity of the claims, as clearly many of them are preposterous and demonstrably untrue, the dire effects of the carbon tax being an obvious example. There must be other reasons.

It should not be surprising to anyone that businessmen who support entrepreneurship, free markets, competition, light regulation, minimal red and green tape, ‘flexible’ industrial policy, small government, and low taxes, find themselves attracted to Liberal policies that espouse these elements, although not necessarily following them in government. But that does not explain why they allow Abbott, Hockey, Robb and Cormann, the Coalition’s finance spokesmen, to continually talk down the economy, depress consumer confidence, imperil their businesses in the process, and put a brake on their own confidence, which is now lower, much lower than that of the consumers.

I shall attempt to tease out some explanations that I believe may be operating.

Many businessmen are Coalition supporters
One explanation is that some businessmen are such rusted on Coalition supporters, such entrenched Labor antagonists, that their support for the Coalition is unconditional. An example that springs to mind is Marcus Padley of the Marcus Today Newsletter, whose gloomy reports and prognostications about the stock market on ABC Radio every weekday are liberally sprinkled with overt anti-Government sentiment.

Unconditional support is the only explanation I can muster to explain how they can endorse the bumbling, foot-in-mouth, disingenuous Leader of the Coalition, with his overt ignorance of economics, his policy deficits, his shonky costings, and his policy ineptitude in the few areas he has already defined, his Direct Action Plan for climate change being a classic instance.

Some of course may not be unconditionally supportive, but because they accept the predictions of commentators on polls of voting intention that the Coalition is a shoo-in at the 2013 election, believe it is prudent for them to say nothing that would get them offside with what they expect to be the next government, from which they would be seeking favours, policies congenial to their business, and a leg-up when in strife. Perhaps they should pay more attention to polling trends that show a steady narrowing of the gap between the Coalition and Labor. Perhaps they should seriously contemplate the possibility of the Government being returned. If and when they do, they may be more inclined to call out Abbott and Co. when they make outrageous statements.

Some businessmen are rent-seekers
Another explanation of the reluctance of some businessmen to criticize the Coalition is that they are rent-seekers who want the Government to ease their burden as we saw when the carbon tax and the MMRT were introduced. Wanting the taxes removed or reduced, advocates were out in numbers with advertisements on TV and in the papers condemning these initiatives. Mitch Hooke of the Minerals Council led the charge, soon joined by Gina Rinehart, Twiggy Forrest and Clive Palmer, the Australian Industry Group, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Business Council of Australia and other employer organizations, all predicting economic disaster for businesses in the wake of the taxes. The carbon tax was about to disrupt, dislocate, and destroy businesses across the nation. As Tony Abbott opportunistically jumped in with a vow made in his own blood that these taxes would be repealed should they elect the Coalition to office, the rent-seekers rallied to his support.

No businessman wants to pay more tax, although some willingly do so for the common good. But there was little concern shown by the rent-seekers for the common good. They simply wanted the taxes removed, and spent millions in advertising to this end, and to hell with the rationale behind the taxes: to reduce pollution and spread the benefits of the mining boom. The spectre of the slaughter of the many geese that were laying the golden eggs was raised before the eyes of the electorate. Apprehension was engendered and scare campaigns mounted of massive job losses, exploding unemployment, and whole industries and towns wiped out.

The rent-seekers were smart. They knew full well that their campaign was disingenuous, but self-interest trumped the common good. Their colleagues in other areas of industry and commerce also knew that their campaign was self-serving, but did they raise a murmur? No. As Ross Gittins put it in his article: What business needs to learn about politics “…big business won't get far until it abandons its code of honour among thieves. That is, when one industry goes into battle with the government to resist a new impost or get itself a special concession, all the other industries keep mum, even though they know the first industry is merely on the make.” That’s exactly what they did – kept mum. Referring to the MMRT, Gittins continues: “Big business looked the other way as the three big miners connived with the opposition to destroy the Rudd government. Its reward was to have its precious cut in company tax snatched away.”

The colleagues of the rent-seekers could have voiced their concern about one section of the economy seeking benefits at the expense of other sections and the common good. But they chose silence, and thereby gave tacit support to their colleagues and to the party that was promising repeal, the Coalition.

So here is another explanation of why businessmen seem to swallow the ‘talking down the economy’ rhetoric of Abbott/Hockey/Robb/Cormann without a protest, without a murmur, without so much as asking them to tone down the talk that is damaging their businesses day after day, week after week. They are part of the industrial/commercial club that sticks together, that exhibits the age-old ‘honour among thieves’. Unfortunately, it is the public’s rights and benefits that are being thieved.

Indifferent relationships exist between business and government
Writing in The Australian, John Durie attributes the adverse attitude of some businessmen to PM Gillard and her Government as due to the business community coming to grips with a flat economy that is a tough grind. He noted that some businesspeople are still smarting from policy changes and feel they have borne the brunt of tax changes, including the latest plans to bring forward payments.

He went on to say: “Big business isn't perfect and government bitterness is understandable after watching the big miners in open revolt over the tax changes. The public attacks on the government have died down as the better operators understand no one likes being slagged in public, so if they want to deal with the government it is better to be more cordial. They just wish Gillard would respond on the same terms.”

Durie conceded that the Asian Century white paper was welcomed as it offered a potential bridge between the two sides after a rocky relationship, but at the Business Council's annual dinner last week, he asserts that: “Gillard missed a chance to engage with a broad cross-section of business, welfare groups and community leaders.” He reported that: “Businesspeople say that in individual meetings Gillard is completely different, engaged and interested, but before big business audiences she speaks right over the top of them, apparently to a different audience…Just as she did last year, she used the occasion to lecture the audience rather than engage a genuinely open audience.”

Whether or not Durie is correct in laying the blame for this dissonance at the PM’s feet, it does seem that some businesspeople do. This is yet another explanation for the willingness of some to hold their tongue when Abbott and Co. are on their negative rampages, talking down the economy at the expense of business. Their antagonism to PM Gillard at the one time encourages them to be critical of her and her Government, while inhibiting them from being critical of the Coalition.

So there it is. Although it is very doubtful that businessmen really believe the rationale of Tony Abbott and his finance colleagues when they talk down the economy, they exhibit a regrettable reticence to pounce on them. Yet when that happens, people defer discretionary spending on their homes and cars, cut back on luxury items, use their clothes a little longer, shop online, eat out less often, take their own lunch to work, defer that holiday, pay off the credit card, reduce the mortgage, and save for the rainy day. And as they do, business suffers. Retail sales decline, restaurants languish, coffee/sandwich shops have fewer takers and some close, travel agents lose business, airlines have fewer flights. All of this distresses businesspeople, erodes profits, reduces dividends, diminishes stock prices, forces closures and bankrupts some, and results in personal dismay and depression. Yet, the business community stays mute.

A reasonable reaction would be to shout from the rooftops:

“Shut your mouths Abbott, Hockey, Robb, Cormann, your scaremongering is frightening people; your doom and gloom is driving customers away, it’s killing our business, sending us broke, and driving shareholders to desperation as their pensions erode and their dreams of comfortable retirement evaporate”.

But they say nothing. Why oh why?

Several explanations for this extraordinary behaviour are offered:

Many businessmen are Coalition supporters and won’t criticize their own. Others, believing that the Coalition will form the next government, out of self-interest refrain from disapproving their behaviour.

Some businessmen are rent-seekers and because they need the Coalition’s support, will not criticize. Honour among thieves inhibits other businessmen from entering the debate.

Indifferent relationships between business and the current government restrain some businessmen from criticizing the alternative government.

You may have other explanations for this astonishing unwillingness of businesspeople to insist that Abbott and Co. stop talking down our economy, the envy of the developed world, and stop wreaking havoc with their businesses.

What do you think?

Abbott and Hockey are endangering Australian business

Writing on Poll Bludger, Bushfire Bill has made the telling point that every time someone talks down our economy, another small business, and larger ones too, are placed in jeopardy. And who is it that most often talks our economy down? You know. Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey. And when they need a little help, Andrew Robb and Mathias Cormann are always at the ready.

Yet we know that when they come out and disparage the economy, it is entirely a political strategy. Not for a moment do they believe that the economy is performing as poorly as they portray. When they go overseas they talk it up; they claim ‘bragging rights’ for Australia. Yet here they talk it down.

First, let’s get an idea of how consumers and businessmen view the economy, then look at the extent of the ‘talking down the economy’ problem, and finally we’ll take a look as BB’s novel counter move.

Business and consumer confidence are a reflection of how the state of the economy is viewed by those who manufacture or sell goods on the one hand and those that buy them on the other. There are several measures used in Australia. Although Greg Jericho shows in his comprehensive article in May about consumer confidence in The Drum that its correlation with other measures of economic activity is imprecise, he does agree that “consumer confidence is worth measuring, if only because it does give us insight into how consumers feel, and how the economy is being reported, and how well the Government is selling its view of the economy."

Roy Morgan runs a weekly consumer confidence rating. This is the last report – 3-4 November. It shows the rating “has risen strongly to 115.4 (up 2.7pts) driven by increasing confidence about the next 12 months with 41% (up 3%) of Australians expecting their family to be ‘better off financially’ this time next year and 29% (up 2%) expecting ‘good times’ for the Australian economy over the next 12 months.”

Another is the Westpac Melbourne Institute Index of Consumer Sentiment, which is an average of five component indexes which reflect consumers' evaluations of their household financial situation over the past year and the coming year, anticipated economic conditions over the coming year and the next five years, and buying conditions for major household items. Compiled from a survey of 1,200 Australians, index scores below 100 indicate that pessimists outweigh optimists. Historically, from 1974 until 2012, Australia Consumer Confidence averaged 101.85 reaching an all time high of 127.67 in January of 2005 and a record low of 64.61 in November of 1990. This week it is at a 19-month high, the best since April 2011, at 104.

For business confidence there is the Australia Business Confidence measure. The National Australia Bank's monthly survey of business confidence measures current performance of the non-farm business sector and is based on a survey of around 350 small to large sized companies. Historically, from 1997 until 2012, Australia Business Confidence averaged 6.13 reaching an all time high of 21.10 in May of 2002 and a record low of -31.60 in January of 2009. A survey taken in mid October shows it was -1 in September, down from 0 in August. A look at the graph shows it has hovered three to four points above or below zero for about a year. This week a survey by the Australian Institute of Company Directors shows that confidence among the 500 company directors surveyed is at its lowest level in two years, which the spokesman attributes to the slowing local and global economies, low consumer confidence, a high Australian dollar, regulation, and low productivity.

It is against this background of measures that we need to ask what is affecting the attitudes of consumers and businessmen. As with all measures of economic activity, the factors are complex, multiple, and interacting, but some stand out as likely to be highly relevant.

The situation in Europe appears to weigh heavily on both consumers and business. The gloom that we hear almost every day about Greece, and if it’s not Greece, it’s Spain or even Italy, is depressing. People are worried about a Greek default and a possible domino effect across Europe and the globe. The US economy is also a worry and all the talk of the US economy going over a ‘fiscal cliff’ has frightened people. It is noteworthy that since President Obama’s re-election just a few days ago, concern about the fiscal cliff at first diminished, but has escalated again after recent tough talk from both the Republicans and the President.

Another factor that must still occupy people’s minds is the GFC. Many were over-committed when it hit – maxed out on their credit card and struggling with mortgage repayments on their McMansions, homes they really could not afford. The GFC brought them up with a jolt, scared them about their spending, and pushed them towards austerity and saving instead of spending. This persists, although it may now be easing. We saw this when the first cash payments were made in response to the GFC, where much of the payments was banked. This was an appropriate response as many were living beyond their means, putting purchases on the never-never, and headed for financial distress. Consumers felt less confident, they spent more prudently, and business suffered as consumers bought less. Having created a ‘buy now, pay years later’ mentality among his Harvey Norman customers for years, Gerry Harvey screamed blue murder because his customers were no longer buying as before.

No doubt there are other local as well as global factors that influence people’s attitudes and confidence, and that of businessmen, but it is hard to discount the negative talk of the Leader of the Opposition and the Shadow Treasurer, as well as the Shadow Finance Minister, Andrew Robb, and the Assistant Opposition Treasury Spokesman, Mathias Cormann, as a contributory factor to the less than healthy confidence ratings of consumers and businessmen.

We don’t have to go back far to see examples of the Opposition talking down the economy, despite it being the most robust in the developed world and the envy of G20 finance ministers. Only last month in Tony Abbott Talking Down the Economy is Living up to His Name, Says Wayne Swan, Erik Pineda reported that Tony Abbott had supported the observation by David Murray, once head of the Commonwealth Bank and Australia’s Future Fund, that he was worried by Australia's low productivity and too high foreign debt, which…were clear recipes that brought down the economies of many in Europe, specifically that of Greece. Abbott added: "The lesson of Europe is that countries can go very quickly from a strong position to a parlous position if things aren't well managed… Australia could easily go down the drain, in the same way key economies in Europe did.”

Imagine the effect of such an alarming comment on people already worried about the situation in Europe.

Wayne Swan retorted that Abbott had “sunk to new depths of negativity and economic recklessness in talking our economy down," and that for him “to compare the local setting to that of Europe was both out of context and irresponsible”, as indeed it was. Julia Gillard said it was absurd "to compare our circumstances to Greece", and that it was "grossly irresponsible and wrong". She added: "…markets listen to what political leaders say, this can have repercussions in the real world that matter for the Australian economy."

In an October 3 piece in The Australian: Abbott talking down economy on mining boom, says Gillard, Lanai Vasek reports that Tony Abbott said: “a sooner-than-expected end to the mining boom was the result of Labor's poor economic policy and that all booms had to finish but that Labor had stifled the current resources boom with its Minerals Resource Rent Tax.”

Julia Gillard responded: "That is clearly a nonsense remark and it is wrong and inappropriate for anybody to be talking the Australian economy down. We've got a resources boom where we are yet to see the investment peak and the production peak.”

Reflect on the effect of that Abbott remark on confidence.

Joe Hockey talks down the economy so often it would take several pieces to document them all. He has consistently berated the Government’s economic policies, and echoing Tony Abbott, has labelled the Gillard Government as the worst government in Australian political history, unable to manage money, addicted to spending, debt and deficit, and one that will never bring down a surplus budget. No matter how good the economic news, he will talk it down and turn it into a negative.

Last month, David Bradbury, Assistant Treasurer had this to say:

“Shadow Treasurer and good news hater Joe Hockey was belting out tunes from his favourite broken record again today with his relentless talking down of Australia's economy.

“The hard facts that Mr Hockey wants to deny are:

“Yesterday's IMF's October 2012 World Economic Outlook showed Australia is now the world's 12th largest economy and has leapfrogged three places ahead under the Labor Government, after slipping back three places under the previous government.

“The Australian economy has been growing for 21 consecutive years, not shrinking as Tony Abbott has said.

“Tax to GDP is lower under this Labor Government than it was when the Liberal Government left office.

“Interest rates are lower than at any time under the former Liberal Government.

“Unemployment remains low at just over 5 per cent and at a time when the world has shed millions of jobs, Australia has created around 800,000 jobs.

“The day after the IMF upgraded the ranking of the Australian economy, Mr Hockey insisted on peddling his doom and gloom in a disgraceful effort to undermine confidence and make life harder for Australian families and businesses…Mr Hockey just wants to distract attention from his $70 billion budget crater and his secret plans to slash tens of thousands of jobs and cut frontline services. Mr Hockey should stop talking the economy down and come clean with how he is going to fund his gaping budget hole.”

When Wayne Swan was named Treasurer of the Year by Euromoney magazine, Hockey talked Swan's accolade down as reported in Swan soars before hit with the hockey stick. In doing so, Hockey managed to insult the economies of several developing countries, whose chief finance ministers have previously received the Euromoney award. Said Hockey: ''Over the last few years we've had two Slovakian ministers, a Serbian, a Nigerian, a Bulgarian . . . 2001 a Pakistani finance minister, that's quite an extraordinary one, that one…That's not any basis upon which I can give my endorsement to the Treasurer.”

Hockey has not a trace of charity; knocking is his only device.

This talking down of the economy is not new. Earlier this year in Julia Gillard slams Andrew Robb over talking down economy Ben Packham wrote: “Julia Gillard has accused opposition finance spokesman Andrew Robb of "deeply irresponsible conduct" after he declared Australia's economy was at risk of a European-style meltdown.”

“Mr Robb told The Australian the nation's debt growth had been outstripped only by global financial crisis casualties Iceland and Ireland, leaving the nation vulnerable to a fall in the nation's terms of trade.

“The Prime Minister said in reality, Australia had received a triple-A rating from all three ratings agencies, a feat not achieved before including under the former Howard government.

“She said Mr Robb's comments were themselves a risk to the Australian economy: "We are at a time in the world economy where there is volatility out of the eurozone." That means that markets are skittish. That means it's an incredibly dangerous time for people to be spruiking nonsense about the Australian economy. And that's what Mr Robb has been doing - talking our economy down."

When Robb does appear, we know that dismal, cheerless economic gloom will be all he is able to offer.

Mathias Cormann is always ready to join the fray. In the Senate he asked: “Will the government now concede that its carbon tax, its mining tax, its massive increases in red and green tape, increased union militancy on its watch and all of its other anti-mining policies and anti-mining rhetoric have hurt Australia's economic fortunes?” to which Senator Chris Evans responded: “Relentlessly talking down the economy in this country by the Liberal and National parties is absolutely bad for confidence, bad for jobs. What we know is that there is record investment, a record pipeline of coming investment, and the mining industry remains strong.”

Cormann went even further in The Australian last month in Labor's rush to pull veil over budget black hole a conjuring trick, asserting:

“Labor knows that's a serious problem for its fiscal credibility. It knows that the delivery of yet another deficit, the fifth Swan deficit in a row, will be seen by most for what it is - the conclusive proof (if that were required) that Labor cannot manage money.”

If carping was a criterion of success in the Opposition finance team, Cormann would be a star.

Talking down the economy has been a consistent Coalition theme for the last two years. It would take many pages to document all the instances. It never seems to occur to the Coalition finance team that all its negative talk is damaging to our economy. Of course, if they actually do know that, it makes their destructive actions all the more reprehensible. They are mimicking the strategy of the US Tea Party that was prepared to bring down the US economy in order to make President Obama look incompetent, and have him replaced by their man, Mitt Romney. They failed.

Why do businessmen not tell Abbott and Co. to shut their damaging mouths? Can’t they see they are wrecking their businesses? While consumer confidence is on the up, the businessmen are still miserable, their confidence dropping. Do they believe the doom and gloom perpetrated by the Coalition so-called finance team? Looks like it!

Now for Bushfire Bill’s novel answer to the Coalition’s destructivity, one he offered on Poll Bludger on October 24. In response to another blogger’s comment that read: “The Liberal Party could do itself and Australia a major, cleansing, favour: sack Mr Abbott, Ms Credlin and Mr Loughnane. This trio has spent the best part of four years wrecking the joint”, BB had this to say:

“The line I’ve used with my colleagues in the high-discretionary-spending area of high-end Home Entertainment has been simple:

“Every time Abbott or Hockey trash the economy, you lose another sale.”

“It works a treat.

“I then follow up with:

“If buyers have no confidence, then they won’t go out and make purchases. First cab off the rank will be your $xx,000 widget [insert name of expensive Home Entertainment toy here.]

“It really does get them thinking.

“My killer concluding line is:

“It’s not a game anymore. It’s not FUN anymore. It’s real. The Coalition is talking down YOUR business for no reason. They didn’t get their early election. All they have is a lead in the polls – and that’s fading away.”

“Is the damage they’ve done – and are still doing – to your business worth it?”

“It’s amazing how resonant these few simple lines can be. Even the drongo who wanted Gillard to fall over on gravel and break her face listened, eventually.”

Later BB advises: “The government should start this ball rolling, across all fronts. Put misogyny to one side. It’s important, but not as important as convicting the Coalition of directly affecting confidence and thus the economy.

“The aim of the campaign would be to have the punters so exasperated with the doom-and-gloom talk from the Coalition that they yell at their TV sets, “Just SHUT-UP Abbott!”

“In answer to the objection that “the government would say that”, you just reply:

"That's the government's JOB. Confidence is a real input to the economy. The government has a DUTY to talk confidence up, especially when it's warranted. Without confidence no one gets out of bed in the morning. And anyway, it's the best economy in the world. We SHOULD be bragging about it."

“Hammer it home. Make it stick.

“My own industry is easy, because it’s so sensitive to dorks like Can-Do Campbell saying things like “Queensland is the new Greece.” Other industries are harder nuts to crack, but do-able.

“The good thing about a confidence and anti-trash-talk campaign is that it’s not only clever, but has the virtue of being the correct, responsible and truthful thing to do.”

That is very sound advice. It’s time the Government mounted a spirited proactive campaign of ‘knocking the knockers’, not just reacting to their destructive negativity that puts down OUR economy, the one upon which we all rely.

What do you think?

Take heart from Obama’s win and Romney’s loss

Is there a national election that attracts more global attention than the four-yearly US Presidential election? Is there an overseas election that has more significance for Australians? Despite confident predictions by the right wing punditry that Romney would win, it was Obama who won, and he did so handsomely. All their lofty predictions came to naught; all they ended with was resentful recrimination.

Is this a foretaste of the 2013 election here? Will the conservative punditry here be shown to be as wide of the mark as their American counterparts? The parallels between the Democrats and the ALP, and between the Republicans and the Coalition here, are striking. This piece attempts to tease them out and draw some inferences for the 2013 election.

Take heart from Obama’s win and Romney’s loss

The fiscal cliff
Why is there this extraordinary worldwide interest in the US election? Right now, the US economy must rate as the prime reason. We know that it faces a ‘fiscal cliff’, well described in the SMH by Max Mason in What is the fiscal cliff?. Mason explains that the term depicts ”…a raft of tax increases and spending cuts that will automatically come into effect at the beginning of 2013 if the Democrats and Republicans cannot negotiate a new set of budgetary and economic policies to reduce the spiralling budget deficit of $US1.1 trillion.”

The tax cuts for the wealthy introduced by George Bush have been legislated to stop at the end of 2102, which means that taxes would then rise sharply, particularly for the rich. This, coupled with equally drastic cuts to defence and domestic spending, would almost halve the budget deficit to $US641 billion in the 2013 fiscal year. But an undesired consequence of this radical move would be recession and rising unemployment, with, however, a return to growth after 2013.

On the other hand, if George Bush’s tax breaks were to continue and spending was to remain unchanged, it is estimated that the deficit would blow out to an massive $US8.8 trillion by 2022. Servicing such a debt would be a huge challenge, carrying with it the risk of default on loans – a fall over the ‘fiscal cliff’ – that would have worldwide repercussions.

Yet the Republicans want the Bush tax breaks for the wealthy to continue, and are against cuts to defence spending. As post-election control of Congress is still in the hands of the Republicans, a bill to that effect could still be passed. But President Obama has vowed to veto any attempt to bypass ‘the cliff’ that does not include expiration of tax cuts for the wealthy. As a two-thirds majority of both the House and the Senate is needed to override a Presidential veto, this is unlikely to occur.

A compromise somewhere in between these extreme positions is possible but not promising, despite the renewal of Obama’s mandate. The contemporary signals coming from House Speaker John Boehner are mixed. Although he is pledging to work with the President, he is still saying that he ‘doesn’t want any tax hikes’.

Because the Republicans have been playing a game of brinkmanship on this matter, local and overseas stock markets have been left in a state of jittery uncertainty, all the more so since the election.

I go into this detail because the danger of the US falling over the fiscal cliff is high, and should that happen, the economy of the entire globe will be seriously affected. Wayne Swan was vocal about this at the G20 Finance Ministers’ meeting in Mexico.

This situation in the US points to the similarity between the attitude of the US Republican Party and that of the Coalition in Australia. Ostensibly on ideological grounds, they both trenchantly oppose, even if that seriously threatens to damage the nation’s economy. The intent of the Republicans is to make it impracticable for the President and his Democrats to govern, even to the extent of pushing the US over the fiscal cliff.

Brinkmanship has been played ruthlessly; the bitter mood of the Republicans after their defeat in the presidential race will likely accelerate movement down this dangerous path. But the mood of the American people is such that it will likely no longer tolerate such obstructive behaviour from its politicians, such a recipe for gridlock, especially so soon after Obama’s mandate has been so convincingly renewed.

Similarly, the Coalition here does what it can to prevent the Government from governing, albeit mostly unsuccessfully, and threatens to undo much of the legislation already passed should it assume office.

The extreme position of the Republicans is a reflection of the influence of the Tea Party, which has dragged the Party to the hard right. We can expect similar Republican/Tea Party tactics from the Coalition here. Tony Abbott’s previous parliamentary secretary Cory Bernardi, recently demoted because of his linking of bestiality to same-sex marriage, has spent time with the US Tea Party and has imported their obstructive methods into Australian politics.

Election dynamics and the punditry
There are a number of aspects of the US campaign that are noteworthy. The conservative media completely misjudged the campaign and the outcome. An article in Newser titled Conservative media blew it begins: If you relied on conservative media for your election news, Obama’s win likely came as quite a surprise. But, while right-wing pundits had long been predicting a Romney victory, the mainstream media knew all along that the president had a much better shot, writes Conor Friedersdorf in the Atlantic. Voters who got all their information from conservative media were vastly "misinformed," and they should be very angry at just how remarkably said media failed them, he writes. By rejecting rigorous, credible experts like Nate Silver in favor of ‘ideological hacks’, conservative pundits "were operating at a self-imposed information disadvantage."

“But that's no surprise—they've been doing it for years. Conservative media outlets wasted time on ridiculous stories, candidates, and conspiracy theories (birtherism, Herman Cain…) while pundits refused to criticize their own side, resulting in a ‘conservative echo chamber’ that…made a lot of cynical people a lot of money, while keeping voters in the dark. "On the biggest political story of the year, the conservative media just got its ass handed to it by the mainstream media," writes Friedersdorf. "It ought to be an eye-opening moment."

This is what Friedersdorf said in the Atlantic: ”Barack Obama just trounced a Republican opponent for the second time. But unlike four years ago, when most conservatives saw it coming, Tuesday's result was, for them, an unpleasant surprise. So many on the right had predicted a Mitt Romney victory, or even a blowout -- Dick Morris, George Will, and Michael Barone all predicted the GOP would break 300 electoral votes. Joe Scarborough scoffed at the notion that the election was anything other than a toss-up. Peggy Noonan insisted that those predicting an Obama victory were ignoring the world around them. Even Karl Rove, supposed political genius, missed the bulls-eye. These voices drove the coverage on Fox News, talk radio, the Drudge Report, and conservative blogs.”

Reflect on how similar the conservative media is here. The pundits at News Limited and many at Fairfax too have been calling the next election for the Coalition based on polls of voting intention for two years now, and still are, one year out from the next election, notwithstanding the lack of predictive power of these polls. In the US most pundits said the Presidential election was ‘too close to call’ or ‘on a knife’s edge’. This was faithfully echoed in our own MSM. These predictions were all based on polls of the overall popular vote although everyone knew that the election of the President is based not on the popular vote, but on electoral college votes derived from voting in the fifty states, which although close, always favoured Obama, especially in the key battleground states, which carried large parcels of electoral college votes. This is just how it turned out.

In A victory for data over punditry in The Drum the ABC’s Jonathan Green writes ”The 2012 US election will be remembered as the day the bluff and bluster of the mainstream press came undone by the quiet science of polling. Yesterday's big winner? The elegant simplicity of a mathematical certainty; of reason. Its losers? The pompous self-serving chumps of the punditocracy, for one. And also, more significantly, a mainstream media that wants politics to be a slowly revealing secret ... something only it can truly see.” Green could have been writing about our MSM.

Later he says: ”This Obama victory tells us much about the way we consume our politics today. It tells us that pundits are quite often loud, confident and wrong. It tells us that political polling is now a thing of great and elegant sophistication. And polling has now been made all the more authoritatively representative of reality by the sort of meta-polling done by the likes of Nate Silver, by the application of algorithms and cold reason to massed and detailed samplings of the electorate.” Green then quotes Greg Sheridan writing in The Australian: “One of the most depressing elements of this final election result is the absolute supremacy of the polls. I last wrote about the election on Saturday, when the polls were too close to call. But in the few days since then the polls moved more or less decisively towards Obama. And the polls were right., and concludes: ”We'll leave Greg there in his lonely struggle with mathematics. The truth is that the polls were always close, but also callable. Because people did call it, and they got it right. Nate Silver's predictions, based on poll after poll after poll, picked every state in the union. Did we just watch the election that finally consigned the lofty 'we know best' horse race of mainstream political journalism to the knackery? Let's see.”

Yes, let’s see. I doubt if this will change our pundits’ behaviour one jot, so large are their egos, so arrogant their predictions, so geared to wishful thinking, and so deafened by groupthink in their noisy echo chambers. If you don’t believe me, re-read what Turncoat Richo said last September.

Writing in similar vein inThe Drum in The dying art of punditry in Australia, Barrie Cassidy concludes:

”In Australia too the art of punditry is dead, or close to it.

“At a recent summit in Canberra, one of the more self-effacing members of the Press Gallery was asked to make a few predictions. "The way we are travelling," he said, "you would be better off following a bunch of blindfolded monkeys throwing darts."

“The record of punditry through this year speaks for itself.

“The minority government will collapse, and there will be an early election.

“Kevin Rudd will reclaim the leadership, if not this month, then next month, or the month after that...

“If he doesn't then Julia Gillard and the Government faces annihilation whenever the election is held.

“Tony Abbott, on the other hand, is as safe as houses.

“And 'that' speech on sexism was a shocker, guaranteed to backfire.

“It's not
[just] a Canberra Press Gallery thing. Most of those predictions have been embraced at one point or another by regular columnists right around the country.

“It seems that as every opinion poll comes along, political judgments are made and then somehow snap frozen. There is no acceptance that the polls, and the politics, are subject to significant change.

“Silver, the latest geek to make a name for himself in New York, would never make the call until the last minute. Only when the election is nigh would he crunch all the numbers.

“Consumers of all this punditry have been badly let down this year, no doubt about it. But they shouldn't get too upset.

“As we have seen yet again, the pundits, no matter how big their reputations, have practically no influence on election results.”

Remember that. One of the top pundits has said so, one that has pundits talking to pundits every week on his show Insiders.

Greg Jericho wrote his usual erudite assessment in 2012 US Election: Obama and maths win. Do read it and enjoy the splendid graphics. Scroll to the end to read the tweets of some who could not accept the results, even as they were confirmed. Note that it was the aggregated polls, the meta-analyses that correctly predicted the outcome. Note too that he quotes Possum’s Pollytrend: ”Yes a poll can be “wrong” but when you start collating lots of them, for them to be wrong you need to start assuming a lot of things that don’t gel with reality. It’s why in Australia you don’t need to worry about individual poll movement – but instead be smart and look at Possum’s Pollytrend.”

From now on, let’s ignore the pundits – they get it wrong so consistently that it is clear they are running an agenda of wishful thinking that reflects their own, or their editor’s, or their proprietor’s desires, rather than offering critical, honest and informed analysis.

And let’s ignore individual polls and take note of the trends.

Obama’s win and Republican Romney’s loss, and how they were predicted, give us heart in our Aussie context.

Climate change
This did not feature much in the campaign, but as Tristan Edis says in Climate Spectator in Obama's victory a win for reason and moderation ”Climate change was not completely forgotten by Obama even if he gave it a low profile in the campaign. In his victory speech he made a brief reference to the issue stating, “We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened up by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”

“He also made remarks around freeing the country from dependence on foreign oil, which plays to his administration’s dramatic increase in motor vehicle fuel economy standards.”

Later Edis says: ”While it will be tough for Obama to enact substantially strengthened policies to reduce emissions, his victory will mean the Republican House is at least contained from unwinding the progress he has already achieved…Also the US EPA has been quietly enacting new standards governing power plant emissions that will help put the nail in the coffin of many a coal plant, although cheap shale gas has done more of the heavy lifting in this area. Wind power had also become a major player in new electricity supply, supported by a tax credit which Romney said he would seek to abolish.”

Obama’s convincing victory will embolden him to further his efforts to reduce emissions and embrace emissions trading schemes that are already in place in several states. This will diminish the potency of the Coalition’s disingenuous statement that Australia is virtually going it alone with its carbon pricing and ETS, and weaken Tony Abbott’s vow to dismantle it.

The curse of conservatives supporters
Perhaps one of the most profound lessons from the US elections is the disconnect between the Republicans and the surging numbers and growing influence of Hispanics, Afro-Americans, Women (many of them Young Single Women), the Young, the Singles, Gays and Lesbians, and Asians, groups largely met with indifference by conservatives, who more and more are symbolized as Angry Grey-Haired Middle Aged Christian White Males with a sense of entitlement to power and a yearning for the Good Old Days. Piers Akerman is archetypical of these conservatives, as we saw this morning on Insiders. Reflect on those gathered to celebrate a Romney victory; how many outside this narrow group did you see? How many Afro-Americans; how many Hispanics; how many Asians? Very, very few!

As Edis observes: ”Perhaps of most importance though is that this election victory should help prompt a serious rethink amongst the wise heads of the Republican Party about the direction of their party. If they are to regain the presidency they must expand their appeal beyond the states in the religious and highly socially conservative south and mid-west. Their conventions and election party were dominated by grey-haired white people. These people have a high propensity to get out and vote, but they aren’t a recipe for long-term vitality in an increasingly multi-racial society. In addition Obama has done a remarkable job of getting the young, the black and the Latino’s into the voting booth.

“Broadening the Republican’s appeal will be impossible without steering the party away from ideological, anti-science, often racist, extremists from the Tea Party. You won’t win over the progressive states by embracing people who think women can control whether or not they end up pregnant from rape. Nor by taking the government to the very verge of defaulting on their loans based on a fanciful idea that the government could cut expenditure by 40% overnight. Nor will you do this by dismissing the research and advice of highly qualified scientists because it conflicts with a literal interpretation of the bible, and a belief that God controls nature.”

Does all that remind you of the situation here? Sure, we don’t have Hispanics and Africans in the numbers they have there, but half our population is Women; there are many, many Gays and Lesbians, many Young People, and increasing numbers from Asia. We are not solely comprised of audiences who listen adoringly to Alan Jones and Ray Hadley. And we do have our quota of cranks who discard the notion of global warming, many of whom belong to the extreme religious right, who seek to influence conservative policy, and plenty of rednecks who scarify Muslims and sundry other immigrants, and push us toward intolerance. Malcolm Turnbull sees the danger. In Turnbull uses US poll to warn against giving in to political fringes in the SMH, Phillip Coorey quotes Turnbull: ”…the Republican failure at this week's US election was a lesson to all political parties against pandering towards extremist views…The lessons...for everybody is that if you run off to the extremes in politics, which is what the Republicans did, some of their candidates were saying some really bizarre things, which resulted in them losing.”

To succeed in this country, political parties need to appeal to the wide spectrum of races, religions, beliefs, gender, age groups, and social groupings that grace our society. Parties that alienate groups, or ignore them, do so at their peril. Conservatives here run the risk of doing what their counterparts did in the US, ignoring large groups of would-be supporters, in a manner similar to the way Alan Jones and Ray Hadley do by pandering to a limited group of narrow-minded sexist bigots to the exclusion of broadminded, free-thinking people.

This piece draws parallels between the Republicans in the US and Coalition supporters here.

Both play obstructionist, destructive, divisive politics. Both seek to make governance as difficult as they can. Both talk down the economy for political gain. Both threaten to wreck the place to gain power, and seek to shout themselves into office. Both threaten to repeal legislation passed by the other. ‘Obama-care’ there, and the ‘carbon tax’ here, are examples.

Both have their political pundits in the mainstream media who use polls inappropriately to predict political outcomes. Both have pundits who get it wrong again and again. Both have pundits who allow their wishful thinking or that of their editors or proprietors or sponsors to override the factual evidence.

Both appeal to a limited group of voters to the exclusion of others. Both foster media outlets that promote bigotry, and political, sexist and secular bias.

Both embrace climate change skeptics, creationists and in some instances racists.

Both are fixated in the past and yearn for days of yore, the good old days when they were young, when they were firmly in control, and in our case, when the British Empire and Europe reigned supreme.

Both favour free markets, big business, small government and light regulation. Both are neo-conservatives.

What then are the lessons for us from the recent US election?

Remember that Republicans and Coalition members are very similar in ideology, philosophy and their operational strategies and tactics. The Coalition will use Tea Party methods against the Government.

Beware of the political punditry. Ignore their predictions. Ignore their analysis of individual polls, and take note only of trends. Ignore any opinion they offer that is not based on verifiable facts and well-reasoned logic. Too many are incompetent or malevolent or both. They get it wrong too often. Too many are not running an honest agenda. They are too often running someone else’s agenda.

Be aware of the danger of ignoring increasingly influential and vocal groups. Be sensitive to the needs of women, the young, homosexual groups, the disadvantaged and disabled, the indigenous, the new arrivals, and the diverse ethnic groups that now make up our nation. Political parties ignore them at their peril.

Get behind the Government and its positive reformist legislative agenda, one of the most forward-looking in decades. Get behind the Prime Minister, one of the strongest and most resolute we have ever seen.

Review the election strategy of President Obama and the Democrats, and adapt to our situation what has proved to be successful.

Check every utterance of the Opposition for factual accuracy and logic, insist on policy clarity and accurate costings, insist on answers to reasonable questions, and reject obfuscation and dishonesty. Reject negativity whenever it appears.

The Fourth Estate has let us all down by not doing its job. The Fifth Estate must even more rigorously hold it to account, and expose deceit, incompetence and malevolence whenever it raises its ugly head.

Take heart from Obama’s win and Romney’s loss. Something similar is on track to happen here. Even Michelle Grattan sees the striking parallels. Although much of our conservative commentariat is wont to dismiss these parallels, they are there to see for all who have un-blinkered vision.

2013 holds high promise for Labor and our PM.

What do you think?

Australia Fair by Hugh Stretton

This book came out in 2005, and as far as I can remember, attracted remarkably little interest. Hugh Stretton is one of Australia’s foremost thinkers, and he has an international reputation for his work in the area of values in the social sciences. Though he started off teaching history – at Oxford, then Adelaide University – he finished up as a researcher in economics. This book is a work of political economy; it looks at how we got into the political and economic trouble we are in, and what we might do to fix it. Stretton argues ‘that we should be doing whatever it takes in our changing historical conditions, by old means and new, to keep Australia fair’. And this was before the GFC. How could such a relevant and important book be overlooked now?

In this post, I’m going to look at what Stretton says about how we got where we are, and in a later post I’ll outline what he thinks we could do about it.

It’s actually quite easy to see why the book was largely ignored. It takes a lonely stand against the economic orthodoxy accepted at the time by the Labor Party, the LNP and most economic commentators. It sees the changes to the operation of the economy, started by the Hawke-Keating government and pursued further by the Howard government, not as great and necessary reforms that have benefited all of us, but as an abdication of the power to control the economy for the general good. Stretton wrote too early. It’s only since the GFC dented confidence in the free market’s ability to deliver a fair society that such arguments are again being entertained. Well, he certainly makes a good one and it’s time to look at it again.

Paul Keating, Stretton says, brought about a U-turn in Labor economic policy. Instead of using the state to pursue full employment and balanced development, Keating gave up the power to do this. As well as removing most tariff protection, he ‘reduced the regulation of business, privatised some public services and slimmed others to cut their costs, maintained some unemployment to restrain inflation, shifted taxation downward from the highest incomes, and thus increased some inequalities.’ Stretton says that Keating knew that this would hurt some citizens, and accepted that there would have to be a safety net that provided good health care, welfare and education to those left behind. He argues Keating’s motivation was good, that he believed such changes would result in optimum foreign investment, employment, growth, and low inflation. The wealth thus produced could be used to compensate the losers.

I well remember how inexorable this program seemed at the time, particularly as most commentators endorsed it. Labor values seemed to be disappearing, but what was the alternative? Once the process had begun, LNP governments, state and federal, would only take it further, and so it proved. In the face of frustration and impotence on the economic front, Labor activism shifted to the identity issues of gender, race and sexuality – important in themselves, but cutting across the economic divide of the haves and have nots. Other activists turned to the battle over conservation of heritage and biodiversity, and joined the Greens. And some of us withdrew from politics altogether. A pox on both your houses.

Stretton agrees that for some of the time – when for example the business cycle is in an up-swing, or there are (or were) short term profits from asset sales (or there is a mining boom) – some of these good things have happened. But he argues that the downside has been greater than any benefits. Our current arrangement, he says, ‘trusts production to private enterprise and market forces with minimum public aid or regulation. Government’s role is to rescue the resultant losers and correct the misdistribution of income by tax and welfare means. In practice that has become so expensive for an under-employed and ageing population that we don’t do it very well.’ He deals with specific downsides in the chapters about what might still be done to correct the situation in areas such as employment, housing, health and education, income and natural resources. But as a quick summary, the downsides include unemployment, rising numbers on welfare, a smaller tax base to pay for welfare, unaffordable housing, less effective public services (cut to trim costs), more user pays, unproductive investment aimed at speculative returns, some spectacular corporate failures and more inequality. And his point is that much of this comes down to an economic policy chosen by a Labor government which gives undue freedom to the market.

Stretton is far too subtle a thinker simply to be making a case for ‘government intervention’ versus ‘the free market’. He argues that government always has a role in even the most free of markets; it is a question of the public-private mix – with the addition of the contribution of the not-for-profit sector and households. After all, as he points out, ‘It takes work by more than one of them, and often enough by all four, to get your dinner on the table, your car on the road or your children educated.’ Furthermore, unlike with market solutions, there is no ‘one size fits all’; it is a question of working with an eclectic mix of old and new, theory and practice, and experience and imagination. For the detail, see my next post.

Quite apart from the overall sweep of Stretton’s argument – and I have in no way done it justice here – there are two insights that in the light of current circumstances, struck me forcibly. One concerns pokies. As a result of spending cuts in pursuit of smaller government, revenue grants to states have been cut, leaving them less and less able to afford to provide the services for which they are responsible. ‘Desperate needs breed sickening remedies,’ writes Stretton. Most of the States have acted to expand gambling and their revenue from it … unlike the capital proceeds of privatisation, the gambling revenue is reliably, seductively sustainable.’ So the current plague of gambling addiction is an unintended consequence of economic rationalism.

The second insight is that where both sides of politics agree on the fundamental primacy of the market, politics easily degenerates into arguments about management – think BER and pink batts – and the trustworthiness of leaders – think JuLiar and sexism. These may be important, but they shouldn’t be all there is. What Stretton had before him at the time of writing was Mark Latham’s apparent acceptance that ‘the voters who matter are self-interested battlers, contemptuous of idlers living on welfare, and easily frightened by talk of higher taxes or interest rates or inflation.’ I would argue that Labor is now making some effort to initiate a debate about the role of the state, with the carbon tax, the mining tax (however watered down) and a modest assault on middle class welfare. But I’m not sure what direction these baby steps are going in – certainly Hugh Stretton would not be satisfied.

For all there is so much good stuff in it, I can’t say this is an easy book. You’ll see in my next post that his proposed solutions, though sometimes simple, aren’t easy either. But it’s a book that deserves much wider reading and discussion. Perhaps someone should send it to the Prime Minister for Christmas.

Kay Rollison also blogs at What Book to Read – reviewing everything from crime to literary fiction.

The Abbott ‘family’ rush to prop up its errant child prodigy

It began right after Tony Abbott was unexpectedly elevated to the lofty position of Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. There was only one vote in it, but there he was, where he had long fantasized he might be, in line to be the nation’s next Prime Minister. His hurriedly called press conference was a mix of surprise and high expectations, albeit tempered a little by the reality of being pitted against a once very popular PM in Kevin Rudd. Just one sentence was memorable: “If I win the next election I will be considered a genius; if not, I will be road kill.” How prescient. Yet that sentence gave hope to a languishing Coalition torn by the trauma of ejecting one leader, then selecting one that was not planned to be the leader at all. It was supposed to be Joe Hockey, but having messed up his campaign with equivocation about his support for an ETS, he was surprisingly eliminated at the first ballot, leaving just Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott to slug it out.

The prospect of a genius wresting power from the Labor usurpers was appealing. After all, John Howard’s Coalition should never have lost to upstart Rudd and his Labor Party. The Coalition, as the natural party of government, one that had been so for over eleven long years, should have continued. Having been robbed of victory, and the Prime Minister having lost his seat to a journalist, redress was needed, and as soon as possible.

The earnest Brendan Nelson never had a hope against the determined and resourceful Malcolm Turnbull, who quickly edged him out. But despite showing high promise, Turnbull’s reputation was badly dented by the Grech affair, and even more dangerously so within his own party by his support for a modified Rudd ETS. The hard right conservatives and climate skeptics/deniers, led by Nick Minchin, cooked up a plot to replace Turnbull with Hockey, but when that backfired there was the astonished Tony Abbott facing the media.

At that time, Abbott scarcely had a family at all, that is a political family. Having messed up badly during the 2007 election, he had few followers. But what his party knew, and many in the Fifth Estate could see, was that this man was a pugilist from his university days and that this was an attribute he would bring to leadership, having already had plenty of practice as John Howard’s attack dog. It was not long before we saw his pugilism in savage action.

Always a prizefighter, he settled on a strategy based on short unforgettable slogans, jabbing endlessly at Labor’s soft spots. The carbon tax, boat arrivals, and debt and deficit were all simple targets, with easy to remember, easy to create three word slogans that could be repeated ad nauseam no matter what the occasion.

The public, disengaged at that time from serious political discourse, readily cottoned onto these slogans and were soon repeating them over a beer or a latte, or at the water cooler. It was an easy strategy, and as polls steadily moved in favour of the Coalition, was seen by journalists as a ‘clever’ and successful one. Soon the notion of ‘Abbott as genius’ captured the imagination of the Canberra Press Gallery, always excited by the prospect of a fight, especially where the underdog showed a good prospect of winning. Traditionally inclined towards the conservative side of politics, and becoming disenchanted with PM Rudd and his Government, many in the MSM joined the ‘Abbott family’, and verbalized their support through their columns. ‘Genius’ Abbott, now showing ‘child prodigy’ attributes, could do no wrong. He, and his strategy, was soon categorized as ‘brilliant’, and he was already being dubbed ‘the most successful Leader of the Opposition in Australian political history’.

Then came the abrupt removal of Kevin Rudd, and his replacement with Julia Gillard. This traumatic event, and Laurie Oakes’ revelation in the 2010 election campaign of the behind the scenes plotting that seemed to some to implicate Julia Gillard, turned the public away from Labor. As the polls moved more and more to the Coalition until the two parties were level, the Abbott genius was amplified, and soon pollsters were predicting a ‘hung parliament’, which turned out to be the case.

Then came the agonizing seventeen days of negotiation with the Independents and Greens, in the end clearly won by Julia Gillard, and lost by Tony Abbott whom we now know would have done anything, anything at all to get the prize. The Independents judged him to be less suitable than Julia Gillard to be the PM. He lost, and as Anthony Albanese has often said, subjected us to ‘the longest dummy-spit in Australian political history’. He was a sore loser during university days, and still was.

Because PM Gillard was landed with a minority Government, Abbott saw her as vulnerable and illegitimate, and set about to destroy her and her Government just like he had done with his opponents in the boxing ring at Oxford. He threw everything at her, believing he would soon knock her and her Government to the canvas, bloodied and beaten, and that a new bout would be ordered which he would win in the first round. He sharpened his slogans. It was now a ‘toxic tax’ that would create economic havoc and devastate whole industries and towns; it became ‘a tax built on a lie’, and some of his distant political family organized carbon tax rallies that sported ‘Ditch the Witch’ and ‘Bob Brown’s Bitch’ placards in front of which Abbott and his shadow ministers stood.

As his flurry of wild punches hit the mark, Julia Gillard’s ratings plummeted, and Labor’s stocks steadily fell as the Coalition’s rose. Soon the Coalition was so far ahead in the polls that the Canberra Press Gallery was confidently predicting a landslide to the Coalition at the next election, the reduction of Labor to ‘a rump’, and a decade for it to recover. The Abbott family grew as more and more journalists joined the congratulatory throng. Abbott truly was a genius, more successful than any previous Opposition Leader. It was just a matter of time before he knocked PM Gillard out and forced another bout, which he would win without working up a sweat. The Press Gallery was enthusiastic.

Although Abbott had laughed when she said: “bring it on”, PM Gillard would “not lie down and die”. No matter what Abbott and the MSM threw at her, she kept coming back, feinting, throwing more and more effective punches, and accumulating points with each piece of reforming legislation passed.

Although he may have had his moments of doubt, his ever-supportive extended ‘family’ treated him as the child prodigy they felt sure he was. His brilliance was never doubted. They tolerated, even applauded his belligerence; after all, opposing was the job of an opposition! They ignored, even excused, his lack of policy and costings. They good-humouredly accepted his appearances at sundry businesses with fluoro vest and hard hat, and had no complaint about his predilection for soft interviews, his poor performance in probing ones, and his penchant for walking away when questioning at doorstops got tough. All the defects so obvious to others were overlooked or discounted by the growing political Abbott family. Tony could do no wrong.

They wrote PM Gillard off and reveled in the thought of a massive Abbott victory. They used the polls of voting intention to support their predictions, always believing an election was imminent. But PM Gillard refused to drop. She was at times bloodied, but her seconds got her up as each new round began. One year went by, then another. Journalist after journalist wrote about the ‘inevitable’ Rudd challenge, citing date after date by which it was likely to happen, but when it was finally arranged, PM Gillard was the clear victor, and although Rudd’s supporters still make intermittent subterranean noises, nothing seems likely to now bring about any change.

The Abbott man began to tire, and the Abbott machine began to run down. Throwing the same old punches, punches that missed their mark or made no lasting impact, Abbott and his family became disheartened. They had placed so much store in their prodigy, but now he was flagging before their very eyes, and before the eyes of the electorate too. His popularity slid in poll after poll, but the Coalition vote held up well, reassuring the family that although Tony was tiring, the Coalition would win easily ‘if an election was held today’. But of course it wasn’t being held today or tomorrow, and now not until next year.

Then the boy genius began to make mistakes. When his past caught up with him via David Marr’s Quarterly Essay: Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott, he mucked up his response to Marr’s revelations. His behaviour towards women became a talking point. Alan Jones joined the fray telling a Young Liberals’ audience that Julia Gillard’s father had died of shame because of his daughter’s lies. Revulsion at this outrage was widespread, but Abbott was slow to respond, slow to condemn, and to add insult to injury, he repeated the ‘died of shame’ phrase in parliament, leading to the most excoriating dressing down of an Opposition Leader by a Prime Minister ever witnessed in the House, made all the worse by the sexist overtones that showed Abbott up in such a poor light. Labor women, and women all over the country applauded, gratified that at last someone in authority had stood up for them against the sexist discrimination they had all endured. The speech went viral around the world. The child prodigy looked mean and nasty, and all the worse for him, diminished in the eyes of the electorate, women and men alike.

Family members rallied behind their boy, quibbling about the use, or as they saw it, the misuse of the word ‘misogyny’. Half brother Greg Sheridan wrote an indignant article; this was not the Tony he knew, and he had known him from university days. Margie Abbott went public about her Tony. We were told he was not a misogynist; he loved his wife and daughters. As if we ever doubted that! Abbott’s political sisters, Julie and Sophie, and his political brother Christopher, came out singing in unison that the Tony they knew was a nice man, not sexist, and certainly not a misogynist.

Brothers in the MSM wrote articles in defence. With Tony so assured of an easy victory, no matter when the next election was held, surely he couldn’t be so easily sidetracked by his past. His gauche reaction to Marr’s revelations and his handling of Jones’ ‘died of shame’ remark made matters worse. His ‘family’ began to see certainty eroding, and when Newspoll twice had the parties level pegging, mild panic began. Surely the child prodigy couldn’t mess up now.

Cousin Peter van O began to doubt, and said as much in an article: Is this the turning point. He asked: ”Has the Gillard Labor government turned the corner?” Having conceded that it could be as long as 12 months before the next federal election is called, he opined that: “Abbott must find a way to arrest the decline in his party's primary vote, which may require pivoting from his deliberately negative style of campaigning” and then expressed the unthinkable thought that, like his previous boss John Hewson who lost an ‘unloseable election’, Abbott might do likewise.

Even grandmother Michelle began to have doubts about her favourite grandson. In Headaches for Abbott as tactics falter, she ruminated about the polls, dissension in Coalition ranks, flawed tactics and not enough strategy, but not wanting to upset dear Tony too much she gave him a gentle reassuring pat: ”Abbott doesn't need to push the panic button, but unless the final polls for the year bring some good news for him, there will be pressure for serious stocktaking over Christmas.”

By the weekend though, she felt she might have gone too far, so penned a ‘can-you-believe-she-actually-wrote-this’ puff piece: Tony, lighten up for the battle ahead:

“Dear Tony,
Suddenly you have become THE talking point among the chattering commentators. We're all running round quizzing nervous Liberals about what's going wrong and what you must do about it. So, a few thoughts.

“If we mark your performance as Opposition Leader, you get distinctions for the early grades. You helped bring down Kevin Rudd, put big holes in Julia Gillard. But, unfortunately for you, Tony, you're enrolled in a continuous assessment course. There's a big exam at the end, but if you start to bomb out in the monthly assignments, there could be unpleasant surprises later.”
If Tony hadn’t already realized that this was not a short-run course, there is little hope for him. But grandmothers do sometimes state the bleeding obvious!

She wasn’t finished: ”So, you need to get those grades up, Tony - by which we mean your performance and your personal ratings. Look in the mirror - now. Why do 58 per cent disapprove of how you are doing your job?”

Like all adoring grannies, she swallowed whole her boy’s lofty, but platitudinous rhetoric during a recent economics address: ”On Friday you said you had outlined ‘plans for a stronger economy, stronger communities, a cleaner environment, stronger borders and modern infrastructure''', but, taking her courage in both hands, warned: ”Unfortunately you don't look like a guy with a plan, let alone a dream; your image is of a bloke with a pickaxe.”

Not done, Granny Michelle gives some good health advice: ”Tired mind, tired body. Cut back on the exercise a tad. Say no to some of those fund-raisers. It's been a long march and the heavy ground lies ahead”, finishing with: ”And a small postscript. Could you smooth, albeit only a tiny bit, what Barnaby calls that ''square-gaited'' walk that makes you look slightly menacing? A step too far?”

If you think I’m making this up, do read the whole article here. Is this satire? Is she having us on? I suspect this really is granny advice. Oh dear!

Even Aunty Samantha has a go in the Herald Sun in her piece: Time Tony Abbott had a good lie down. It begins: Tony Abbott celebrates his 55th birthday today. The Lodge for his 56th is probably top of the Liberal leader's wish list. But to get there, some of his mates reckon the best present for him would be to crawl back under the covers and go back to sleep. Poor Tony’s tired after a year of wildly swinging punches that mostly now miss their mark.

Malcolm Farr writes an incomprehensible piece linked somehow to the Spring Racing Carnival: On the track Tony Abbott’s odds shorten. Searching for meaning, I came across this: “Tony Abbott is no John Howard. Voters are not yet sure what he stands for, and he doesn’t have much time left to tell them. This doesn’t mean an Abbott-led Coalition would not win the next election. There could be issues and incidents over the coming12 months which wreck his bid for national leadership, but at the moment they are not obvious.

“The notion that the ALP is hauling back its primary vote to the point of making the next election a close contest is fanciful. Forget Newspoll’s 50/50 two-party preferred split.”

Coming from wise old Uncle Malcolm, I guess that will reassure poor Tony. He was supposed to be rejuvenated by a day at the races, but dwarfed as he was by his daughters in their mega stiletto heels, he did look so tiny. Never mind Tony, Uncle Malcolm is backing you still.

Writing in Business Spectator last week in Abbott’s now in real fiscal trouble, Rob Burgess asserted threateningly: “Comments from the Business Council and Australian Industry Group, published yesterday, look like a major headache for Tony Abbott.”, but in the same paper yesterday, Alister Drysdale, former senior adviser to Malcolm Fraser and Jeff Kennett writes in: Abbott's changing the sermon: ”A new Tony Abbott is emerging as the Gillard government regains electorate approval. Direct attacks are losing their impact and if the Coalition is to defeat Labor then considered policy debate must be its new weapon.”

Drysdale goes on: “There are tentative signs that Abbott is subtly changing. The smear aimed at Gillard over her long gone days at Slater and Gordon is now coming from the flaying female deputy, not from him. He’s less agitated and aggressive and involved in Question Time fracas – a small but notable change in political management. He’s attempting to come to grips with quiet speeches on issues of productivity and economic management.” Uncle Alister is relieved.

Later he writes: ”In the months to come, Gillard could still be easily tripped. The ALP could keep yabbering on about themselves…the forecast Budget surplus could melt away – a political disaster". But he offers Tony a word of caution: ”Then too, the polls could keep tightening and buoy the government’s political mission. They could even act as a catalyst for boldness in public policy.” Should the latter come about though, his advice for nephew Tony is simple – be bold!

This extraordinary bout of revisionism has been confined to the Fourth Estate where most of the Abbott ‘family’ dwells; the Fifth Estate remains resolutely of the view that the Leader of the Opposition is disintegrating inexorably.

Uncle Andrew tweeted yesterday morning that things were not as bad for Abbott as they might seem, but so far we have not heard from Uncle Dennis and Uncle Paul. No doubt they will become a second phalanx of reassurance for nephew Tony that all is not lost as he approaches the end-of-year recess. He needs a break, he needs to give his tired brain a rest along with his aching arms, he needs to get his mojo back, and if he does this, their child prodigy must surely win the prize he so richly deserves, one so cruelly denied him in 2010, one they all covet – Prime Ministership and all the clout and influence that goes with it, so important for any close knit, power-hungry 'family'.

Their child prodigy, now exposed as errant, needs all the propping up he can get, and his extended 'family' is already giving it to him in spades.

What do you think?